A pie with capricciosa at Nicli Antica Pizzeria, which is a wonderful new spot in Gastown.
VANCOUVER — Vancouver already is home to Canada’s best Indian restaurant (Vij’s), probably its top sushi experience (Tojo’s), unmatched Chinese fusion (Bao-Bei) and some of the finest seafood restaurants in the country. And you just might be able to add best pizzeria to the roster of greats.
Nicli Antica Pizzeria opened six months ago and the initial response was so strong the restaurant once ran out of dough to meet the demand, wine director and assistant general manager Matthew Morgenstern told me last week.
When a contact strongly suggested I try the new pizza place in Gastown, I expected to walk into a New York-style parlour with an oven burning in front of me and a mustachioed guy in a checkered apron waiting to take my order for a slice. Gastown has some Brooklyn edginess to it, of course, and Nicli’s location at 62 Cordova Street East puts it just a block and a half northwest of the notoriously drug-riddled Main & Hastings intersection. So walking into an establishment with pristine walls and tables gleaming white and lit with candles may make you wonder for a moment if you’re tripping out too.
For one thing, Vancouver just doesn’t do pizza well. Everyone from eastern Canada has complained about the poor choices available when they live or visit here. Second, if this city were to have a pizzeria that offers a fine-dining experience, you’d think it would be found in Yaletown, among the $15 martinis and $5 lattes and $200 jeans. Instead, former St. Thomas, Ontario resident Bill McCaig opted to open his authentic Neapolitan pizza place in a former RCMP riding stables, with a vaulted ceiling and spacious main hall on a downtrodden stretch of the city.
“It was kind of a scary proposition,” he says of deciding on the address. “I had some second thoughts that people would come and then they did.”
Taste for yourself and you’ll know why. The thin-crust pies are made in a wood-fired Gianni Acunto oven imported from Italy and specifically designed for pizza. It heats up to 900 degrees Fahrenheit, which creates the delicate texture of the crust. The sauce on the Capricciosa pie ($20) was so deliciously sweet it offered an instant realization of what pizza should taste like.
“A lot of people told me why don’t you use a gas oven? But if it’s not a wood-fired oven it’s not authentic Neapolitan pizza and the whole point of this is to make it authentic,” McCaig told me, adding that he had to go through some hurdles to get Vancouver politicians to approve the oven for use. “You can use all the same ingredients and make a pizza that’s kind of like mine, but without the oven it’s not going to be the same.”
McCaig went into the culinary business after retiring from the waste-management industry in the early 2000s. He studied French cooking and visited Naples, where he had pizza “that was so much better than anything I had ever had.” He worked in Calgary restaurants before coming to Vancouver and taking notice of the awful state of pizza making in the city.
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