Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Pizza Crawl Y'all

I love dedicated, well- thought out, pre- planned food adventures. This is the third dish-focused food crawl that I've planned/participated in.
First there was Pork Sandwich Smackdown, then there was Bacon Quest...and although we were all greasy and full at the end of Bacon Quest, we had already put the wheels in motion for planning our next food adventure, a Pizza Crawl.
In terms of food trends, Pizza is HOT in Van city. Over the past few years, Italian-inspired pizzerias have been popping up all over the city and getting plenty of love and buzz. and I don't see this trend going anywhere. The old $2 slice of pizza isn't going anywhere but it's evident that Vancouverites are loving high-end, top quality pizzas.

The basics:

Four participants. Each participant picks a pizza place they've been wanting to try. I drive the pizza wagon (aka my Honda Fit) and come up with logistics, scheduling, route that makes sense. At each stop, we ask our server for their most popular pizza/ their recommendation. Split a pizza four ways at each stop.
Let the adventure begin!

Pizza Farina
Pistacchio - Mortadella, Parmesan sauce, Aged Mozzarella, Pistachios and Olive oil $16 

Pizzeria Farina has been around for just over a year and thriving in its location at Main and Union, right near the Cobalt, across the street from Campagnolo and Electric Owl. They don't pretend to be "Neopolitan" and follow those strict pizza rules set in place by the Associazione Vera Pizza Napoletana (yes there are pizza rules) and but go with that style. They aren't flying in flour and tomatoes from Italy or using a wood fire oven. They instead they work that style, use a gas oven,  do a three day artisan pizza dough and focus on simple, quality, delicious ingredients. It's a small place with a couple of small high top tables for two and a communal table in the centre. Love the decor- brick walls, bottles of oils, a bike, and the menu on a butcher paper scroll. Also love that they have a fountain for customers to help themselves to cold water and sparkling water. I re-filled quite a few times because it is hot in there. You order at the counter and basically set yourself up with plates, cutlery, napkins when your pizza is ready. It was MF-ing Coop's pick so he got to order, and I think he swayed the gal at the counter to suggest Pistachio since he'd been eyeballing that menu selection. Around 5-10 minutes later, our pizza was ready and this pizza came out looking beautiful. This crust is AMAZING! It's a thin crust that is full of flavour. I can't rave enough about this crust- they've really been able to hit the perfect texture with a slight crispy crunch and the perfect chew. The toppings were full of flavour: Great earthy, rich, salty crunch from pistachios, mortadella was mild with a bit of herbed seasoning and a subtle parm sauce base. Eating this pizza made me smile.

The Leggy Redhead:

Super Asian Director:

MF'ing Coop:

We each were able to choose one location for the Pizza Crawl.  Farina was my choice.  Happy to report I pick restaurants well – it was the best of the lot (at least, based on the pizzas we ordered).  I’ve been wanting to try Farina for ages –when I saw the pistachio pizza on the on-line menu, I knew I had to have a slice.  Nothing was going to stand in my way.  
Since this was our first location, we agreed upon the rules of the evening – we had to go with the pizza that was recommended to us by our server.  I went up to the counter to order as we each had to pay at the location we chose.  “Do you recommend the pistachio pizza”. “Yes”.  “Well then.  We’ll order that”.  My work was done. 
Super glad I forced the result, the crust was amazing – light bubbly, browned crust.  Champagne.  The pizza was topped with mortadella (the Bologna of Italy), aged mozzarella and roasted pistachios.  The nuts were crunchy with a soft give.  Perfect.  Instead of the usual red sauce, parmesan sauce topped the pizza – not the white gooey mess of a typical pizza bianco – made from fused milk and parmesan rind.  Hella good! Farina has two housemade infused oils to go with the pizza – chili and oregano.  Loved the chili – not too strong but had a healthy kick.  Oregano not so much - a big essence of oregano punch up front then was just oily.  Reminded me a bit too much of homeopathic cold remedies.   
The night we were there was a bit warm – some of the crawlers couldn’t stop svitzing (ok – just one but I’m not pointing out which).  Time to move on; “It’s a crawl, people, not a sit”.

Pizzeria Farina on Urbanspoon

Pizza Barberella
Cavolini - Fior di latte, Aged Mozzarella, fresh garlic, brussel sprout leaves, house cured and smoked pancetta, sea salt, parmigiano reggiano and extra virgin olive oil $14


Pizzeria Barbarella was my pick. It opened last year, and I pass the place almost every day on my way to work. I've read a lot about Pizza Barberella on other local food blogs and I've been totally intrigued by the story behind this place. It's operated by Pizza guru Terry Deane who ran a pizza place called Ah-Beetz in Abbotsford. Van city foodies used to drive out to Abbotsford for this pizza. He sold his place in Abbotsford and set up shop here in Vancouver.  PB specializes in hand tossed, wood fired oven pizza made with fresh and local ingredients you can taste. The interior of the restaurant is quite bare and decor/furniture is sparse with tables spaced quite far apart. It's got a under decorated,bare bones feel (cement floors, black walls) which felt a bit cold and cavernous. But I loved being able to look into the open wood-burning pizza oven and prep area. Our server recommended two pizzas and since the group was intrigued with the idea of brussel sprout topping. The crust was thin, crispy around the edges and soft in the centre with some black charred spots than gave it some smokiness. Overall, this pizza wasn't consistent, some bites were nicely seasoned and flavourful, and some were quite one note and bland. The garlic was nice, the crispy brussel sprouts gave a nice texture and freshness, but none of the other ingredients really sang. I asked the server for chilli flakes and added those, which improved this pizza for me.

The Leggy Redhead:

Super Asian Director

MF'ing Coop:

Fior de Latte, aged mozzarella, house cured pancetta and brussel sprout leaves.  That last ingredient sound weird?  Yup, it was, but also delicious.  They had a slight char and weren’t overwhelming in taste as it was single leaves spread across the top.  Aiding in this task was the salty, chewy meat goodness of the pancetta (there’s a reason I’m The Bad Jew) and some garlic.  The flavours worked well together.  The crust was the Achilles (bread?) heel – just too bready for wood fired pizza. 
The biggest disappointment was the atmosphere of the location.  It’s a large space and has tables spaced way too far apart.  Pizza is cosy and sharing – the tables are not with the program.  Decoration was lacking – the space, spartan.  Lack of any background music didn’t make things better.  
Two lovely points of note – first off, they have frosty mugs in which I enjoyed a Red Racer IPA – that makes up for some of the wrongs above.  The other was that The Leggy Redhead had dried up by this point (oooops, I wasn’t going to tattle).  My bad.

Pizzeria Barbarella on Urbanspoon

Via Tevere Pizzeria Napoletana
Salsiccia e Rapini (red) - Fior di latte, italian sausage, broccoli rabe $16


I was completely charmed by my experience at Via Tevere. This neighbourhood pizzeria, located on Victoria Drive, has only been open since March 2012, but they've been getting lots of love from the local foodie community. As a testimony to its popularity, the restaurant was bustling when we arrived around 7:30pm. We had a 20-30 minute wait for a table. The atmosphere is warm, friendly, and full of positive energy. There are touches of Italy everywhere, photos, maps, big bags of flour. The centrepiece of the restaurant is a beautiful tiled wood-burning pizza oven and open kitchen where you can peek in on pizza prep. This restaurant is a certified Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana joint and they definitely take pride in that. Our FANTASTIC, fun, enthusiastic server Denise explained to us. She recommended the Vesuvio and the Salsiccia e Rapini and The Leggy Redhead picked the Salsiccia. What I liked: The crust was nicely seasoned and thin with crisp, chewy edges and tender middle. I LOVED this San Marzano tomato sauce, it was bursting with flavour. Didn't love the sausage, I found it too mild for my liking and lacking flavour. 

Great attention to detail- knives imported from Italy for pizza cutting, basil infused oil, pepper infused oil, sides of fresh grated cheese and chili flakes. Even though their sausage wasn't awesome, I still left happy and I can't wait to come back and try their other pizzas.
The Leggy Redhead:

Super Asian Director:
MF'ing Coop:

Upon walking in – was struck by the stark contrast to Barberella.  Great d├ęcor and fantastic atmosphere.  Via Tavera was quite busy but the staff avoided being frenetic – well done.  Our server, Denise, was incredible.  The centrepiece is an amazing, custom designed, blue and white tile encrusted, wood burning pizza oven.  A work of art!  I’ll eat any pizza that comes out of that delightful creation.
The pizza was our second one featuring an unusual green topping – broccoli rabe.  Seems we had pushed our luck; it was a bit too sour for a pizza topping.  The sausage, while generally a good pizza idea, wasn’t to my liking – not salty enough and the flavor didn’t really work.  Enough with negative sentiment!  The crust was damn fine;  many little burnt bubbles.  The tomato sauce was delightful – very flavorful.  Fresh tasting and light.  Fior de Latte was also good.  The pizza was severed with two oils – basil and chili oil.  Both worked well.
Overall – my second place pizza of the night.  The crust was slightly behind Farina’s, the atmosphere was equally good, service excellent.  The wood burning over gave me a boner.  Perhaps if we had ordered differently, Via Tevera may have been a close second. 

Via Tevere Pizzeria Napoletana on Urbanspoon

Campagnolo Roma
Romana- Olives, anchovy, tomato sauce -$12.5 add an egg $1

This cozy space seats about 30 people and sits in the Sunrise-Hastings area near Red Wagon, El Barrio, and the Tacofino Commissary. The menu is all about antipasti, pizzas and pastas with specials determined by what's fresh and good and in season. They make their pastas, pizza dough, and breads in house at Roma. I liked the decor, lots of wood, and a cool, textured feature wall. We were welcomed by a friendly host upon arrival but our server was quite cold and not very enthusiastic or helpful. Super Asian Director struggled with ordering- our server recommended two their seasonal special pizzas and I pushed for more of a classic, salty, tomato-based option to finish off the evening. She ended up ordering the Romana and adding an egg. I really liked this crust- it was rustic, poofy, and charred. The toppings were fresh and simple  and the sauce was fresh and lively. I did feel like the toppings were a wee bit sparse. I loved the 'add an egg' option...it's a great extra saucy element. Although we should have ordered at least two eggs for more yolky goodness. Big shout out to their side of house pizza sauce: fennel seeds, olive oil, chili flakes. It added another level heat and flavour dimension to the pizza. Loved that sauce. 

The Leggy Redhead:
Super Asian Director: 
MF-ing Coop: 
I’ll admit that I was running out of steam by this point in the night.  My notes are pretty sparse.  Not sure if it was too many beers, the disappointment in the pizza we ordered or a bit of both.  No cheese on this pizza, just red sauce which was dried to a paste from the lack of cheese protection.  Me no likie.  Olives and anchovies spread sparingly – which I’d usually be ok with IF THERE WAS CHEESE.  We added an extra egg for the topping – which I am loving as an extra with just about all food choices these days (but not pizzas without cheese).  There was fennel and chilis on the pizza as well – not much though. 
The crust was number three of four for the evening (ahead of Barbarella).  Overall the pizza was far too dry.  Campagnola Roma comes in last place – no cheese may have had something to do with it.
I did like the cool rubbery green wallpaper running the length of the restaurant.  Made for some cool arty iPhone photos.  Not a good sign when you like the wall coverings more than the food at a restaurant. 
MF-ing Coop's Winner – Farina (a.k.a. my choice).  Followed by Via Tavera, Barberlla and Campagnoal Roma, in that order.  Missy Mac summed  it up of Farina “I’m gonna dream about that f**king pizza crust”. Amen.

Campagnolo Roma on Urbanspoon

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