Nicli Antica brings Neopolitan pizza to Vancouver
– by Shawn Conner/photos by Robyn Hanson
It was only 5:30, and the wait for a table at Nicli Antica Pizzeria (62 E. Cordova) was already 45 minutes long.
Granted, it was a Saturday, and one of the city’s weeklies had just featured the restaurant; but to find this kind of turnout in sleepy little Vancouver, and in a downtrodden block of East Cordova no less, was quite a shock.
Fortunately, we arrived at Nicli Antica Pizzeria just before the rush, and even had our choice of tables. (There would be more seating in the restaurant, but the City of Vancouver won’t allow Nicli Antica to serve patrons at its bar – according to the waitress, this has something to do with the restaurant not having wheelchair access. So an absurd-looking guardrail blocks the bar.) But between the ordering and arrival of our pizzas, our surroundings changed from peaceful to frantic.
The restaurant, which opened earlier this year, is owned and operated by Ontario-raised Bill McCaig. McCaig took the Vera Pizza Napoletana Americas Association course in California, a necessary step in certification as a Vera Pizza Napoletana joint. (The only other Canadian VPN restaurant is in Libretto, in Toronto.)
The flour, tomatoes and toppings make Neopolitan pizza different from your standard North American fare. 00 Caputo flour is regarded as some of the best in the world; it’s made from soft wheat rather than hard, with lower ash and protein content (the “00” denotes its fineness). The tomatoes are San Marzano, a variety of sweet plum tomatoes grown in a small town near Naples.
We went straight for the pizza, bypassing the appetizers (salad, olives, a charcuterie plate), ordering the funghi (tomatoes, parmesan, mushroom, mozzarella, basil) and bianca (parmesan, gorgonzola, roasted garlic and onion). Both were flour-dusty, chewy, sweet-tangy, and delicious; pizza lovers used to a smothering layer of cheese might bemoan the relatively small portions here, but this means less distraction from the taste of the crust and the sauce.
Along with a couple of not-too-sweet cocktails, one tequila-based (One Night Stand in Tijuana, with fresh strawberry and freshly grated ginger) and another bourbon-based (A Sour Peach, with apricot brandy, peach puree, egg white), the bill came to just over $60 – not cheap, but not damaging, either. In all, it was a great pizza experience – if you can avoid the rush. Nicli Antica doesn’t take reservations, something that may or may not be required as part of its Vera Pizza Napoletana authentication.