Italian Day 2019: Great pizza recharges the soul on Vancouver's East Side

    1 of 4 2 of 4

      The history of great Italian dining in Vancouver goes back decades, with today’s options being deliciously diverse. Craving fire-roasted veal chop? Fraserhood’s Savio Volpe is your spot. Seeking a side of song and dance with your fettucine? Federico’s Supper Club is for you.

      And on Italian Day on Sunday (June 9), owner Federico Fuoco will create an outdoor Italian-style terrazza, as well as a Federico’s to Go station for passersby looking for everything from pasta to meatballs to cannoli. Want Roman-style pizza? Consider Gusto in Olympic Village.

      If Italian food is one of the most popular cuisines in the world, pizza is among the nation’s most ubiquitous. Locally, nowhere is the prevalence of pie more pronounced than in Little Italy.

      La Pache is a Neapolitan newcomer to Commercial Drive; Fire has vegan options like stir-fry veggie alongside meaty pies like honey-garlic pork and crab-bacon alfredo. Here’s a closer look at a few other pizzerias, long-standing restaurants that help make the Drive such a flavourful draw.

      Lombardo’s Pizzeria and Ristorante

      (1641 Commercial Drive)

      Headed by a powerhouse mother-and-three-daughters team, Lombardo’s lays claim to being the first pizzeria in Vancouver with a wood-burning oven. The menu features everything from oven-roasted chicken to stuffed, baked whole-wheat pastas; on the hand-tossed pizza front, it stays true to its thin-crust, classic roots.

      “Our pizza is very traditional,” says executive chef Giulia Lombardo, whose mom, Patti, and sisters Elizabeth and Sonia all have different roles at the restaurant inside Il Mercato mall. “Thirty-two years later, we still make the dough every morning and buy our produce from across the street. Like most Italian recipes, the essence [of a terrific pizza] is simplicity and good-quality ingredients.”

      Lombardo, who, along with her sisters, has called the Drive home her whole life, is especially fond of the Margherita pizza, a balance of sweet and delicate tomato sauce, creamy and slightly salty mozzarella, and fresh, bright basil.

      “A classic is a classic no matter how many times you eat it or make it,” she says. “There is no better combination at the end of a long day than a slice of Margherita pizza and a glass of red wine: instant mood booster.”

      Giulia describes pizza as a crowd pleaser, and she finds it rewarding to be a part of people’s dining experiences in an area as well known and distinct as the Drive.

      “We recently catered a wedding,” she shares. “The bride had been eating at Lombardo’s with her family since she was a child and she wanted to celebrate her special day with Lombardo’s pizza. It was so sweet.

      “I think I can speak for all of the Lombardo girls when I say that we feel very honoured to be part of the tight-knit community of Commercial Drive,” she adds. “We have seen the Drive evolve and grow over the years. I’m excited to see what the future holds for this community.”

      Via Tevere Pizzeria

      (1190 Victoria Drive)

      Dom Morra, co-owner of Via Tevere with his brother, Frank, says making pizza in an authentic wood-fire oven brings out more than deep flavours.

      “A wood-fire oven allows you to connect with pizza’s history, the tradition involved, and the power of the fire,” Morra says. “When you’re cooking with fire, even a few seconds could mean an overcooked pizza. It truly is an art form that takes years to perfect. A fornaio [pizza baker] needs to be able to read the oven and adjust accordingly.”

      Morro’s personal favourite is the classic Margherita. “It’s one of the originals, with simple ingredients that shine,” he says. “With Neapolitan pizza, you don’t need a lot of toppings—just good-quality ones.”

      Via Tevere’s food truck, which is normally downtown, will be on-site for Italian Day (at Commercial Drive and Graveley Street), serving its Neapolitan saltimbocca, a.k.a. the “pizzeria sandwich”.

      “The bread is baked in the 900-degree wood-fire oven, where it takes on the characteristics of pizza Napoletana—soft yet charred, with the classic fire-roasted spotting,” Morra says. “The bread is then loaded with meats and cheeses, roasted over the fire, and finished with fresh tomato, crisp arugula, and basil mayo.”

      Marcello Ristorante and Pizzeria

      (1404 Commercial Drive)

      Marcello Lombardo grew up eating pizza in his native Italy.

      “I started cooking when I was eight years old, and I find deep contentment in it,” Lombardo says. “I enjoy cooking and sharing. It makes me happy to see people enjoy food.”

      If there’s one thing Lombardo would like people to know about pizza, it’s the distinction between Neapolitan and Roman styles, with the main difference being the dough. Although he says both types are delicious, his love is for the Roman style.

      “This is always a hot topic,” Lombardo says. “The Neapolitan pizza dough has a thin crust at the base, but it’s baked soft, whereas the Roman-style pizza dough is thin and is baked to a crisp. The Roman-style pizza’s crisp crust allows for the pizza to hold the toppings without collapsing, unlike the Neapolitan pizza.

      “Another difference is that the Neapolitan pizza is baked on average in about 90 seconds, whereas the Roman pizza is baked in an average of three minutes,” he adds. “They both have different bites: Roman-style has a firm, crisp bite and Neapolitan pizza has a soft bite. Depending on your taste, you can choose the one you want. I like that my pizzas are baked to a nice firm and crisp finish and that the toppings do not slide off.”

      To celebrate Italian Day, Marcello’s is putting meatballs on the menu for that day only in response to popular demand.

      Enrico Fratoni, the Turin-born executive chef at Sopra Sotto.

      Sopra Sotto

      (1510 Commercial Drive; 4022 East Hastings Street)

      Among the pizza selections on Sopra Sotto’s Slow Food–focused family-style menu are Porchetta e Friarielli, with house-made boneless pork roast, Italian broccoli rabe, and mozzarella; and Amalfi, which has anchovy fillets, garlic, olives, leeks, capers, parsley, San Marzano tomatoes, and Sicilian oregano.

      Turin-born executive chef Enrico Fratoni says the Tirolese is one of his favourites, with radicchio, fontina cheese, mushrooms, and speck. “I love the contrasting flavours of the smoky speck and tart radicchio,” Fratoni says.

      “Pizza-making is truly an art—arte bianca in Italian,” he says. “It requires much passion and patience to get the dough just right. Plus, working with fire is magical and very rare in the kitchen these days.”

      Famoso Neapolitan Pizzeria

      (1380 Commercial Drive)

      Travis de Groot, director of Famoso operations at Chiro Foods, a restaurant-management company based in Edmonton, says the chain recently launched a broad menu, with dishes like tapas, charcuterie, Italian sandwiches, and pasta, while it’s also developing a thick-crust New York–style Sicilian pizza, which is anticipated to roll out in July.

      Famoso’s Neapolitan styles range from classics like 4-Meat Siciliana to Spicy Thai with roasted chicken to the Bianca Cavoletti, with oven-roasted Brussels sprouts, prosciutto crisps, Gorgonzola, dates, walnuts, and honey.

      “What I love about pizza is how diverse it is,” de Groot says. “I like it for a snack, lunch, dinner, breakfast, and leftovers.

      “I also love that the dough is a living ingredient that needs serious attention,” he says. “When you make the dough, it activates the yeast. Over the next 24 to 48 hours, you need to keep an eye on it so you’re serving up the best possible product at the perfect time. For this reason, we are constantly staging our dough. Manipulating the speed, it proofs so you get the best product.”

      Italian Day on the Drive takes place from noon to 8 p.m. on Sunday (June 9).