‘Tis the season of pizzas with pizzazz. We had our office Christmas party last week at Verace Pizzeria, an award-winning Vancouver restaurant specializing in Neapolitan pizzas, and I will be seeing in the New Year with my usual Spinach and Feta with Extra Tomatoes, Don’t Scrimp on the Dill, from Athene’s Greek Restaurant on West Broadway. So what if we didn’t have a traditional big turkey dinner this year. (The guests we expected didn’t want to risk the snow and ice on the Coquihalla Highway, and we did have a big turkey dinner for Thanksgiving.) The pizzas almost make up for it.
Immediately below, I’ll be briefly discussing the Christmas luncheon–and allow pictures from the Verace website to do most of the talking as far as the decor and food itself is concerned. Then I’ll move on to a discussion of the pizzas I enjoy so much–and have enjoyed for more than a decade–from Athene’s. Athene’s pizzas are the first of the items I’m discussing in this new blog that fit into the third category of the three main categories of posts I’m including in the blog, A Few of My Favourite Things (or AFOMFT), and will be discussed in greater detail.
CHRISTMAS LUNCHEON AT VERACE PIZZERIA
This picture, an outside view of Verace Pizzeria, and the pictures below of some of the food served at the luncheon, have been copied and pasted from the Verace website
When I read the notice that we going to a pizzeria for our company Christmas luncheon, I was disappointed. I thought we’d be having just a couple of slices of dull, conventional, pizza, and maybe a glass or two of uninspiring wine, and that would be it. Not my idea of a celebratory meal. It turns out Mike picked a perfect place, not far from where we work, with interesting food and a good atmosphere. (From looking at the menu afterwards, it seems reasonably priced, too, although that wasn’t my concern at the luncheon.)
Although the name of the restaurant where the luncheon was held is Verace Pizzeria, this restaurant doesn’t serve only pizza, and the pizza it does serve isn’t typical pizza. It’s Neapolitan pizza, made in the style of traditional pizzas from Naples, Italy, which I’d never before tried. Neapolitan pizzas have very thin crusts, and the toppings generally are relatively plain, consisting of just a couple of main ingredients combined with varied spices, and delicately applied. (An exception was the bountiful amount of meat on the Pizza Carne, or Meat Pizza.) Although some of the toppings of these pizzas were very tasty (I especially liked the Quattro Formaggi, or Four Cheeses), and it was interesting to try this kind of pizza, for me at least, even an entire 12″ Neapolitan pizza by itself would not be sufficient for a meal. But that was okay as far as the luncheon was concerned, because our meal by no means consisted only of pizza.
We were treated to a full, four-course, meal for the whole group (about 30 of us in total), consisting of a variety of salads, a variety of pizzas, dishes of spaghetti, and deserts (tiramisu and lemon cake), all served family-style, so that we got to try a little of everything. For drinks, there were cold pitchers of beer, which went well with the meal and satisfied both older and younger company employees. (Many of my co-workers are in their early twenties.) Pictures of some of the delicacies we enjoyed are below.
My favourite of the four salads we were served (Greens with Figs and a semi-sweet dressing)
Spaghetti Alla Puttinesca (Long thin pasta, tomatoes, garlic, onions, anchovies, olives, capers, chilis, oregano, grana padano & extra virgin oil)
I very much enjoyed the Neapolitan pizza I sampled at Verace Pizzeria as one component of the varied meal we were served at the luncheon and, probably, with some soup or salad, one of these pizzas would make a good, light lunch for a single diner. (This restaurant does seem to do good business at lunchtime, particularly during the summer when the outdoor patio is open.) But I can’t see ordering Neapolitan pizzas, at least by themselves, for home delivery. Home-delivered pizza has to be more substantial so the pizza itself can suffice as a meal, and the recipient is delivered on pizza night from any toil or trouble related to food-preparation.
If you’re in Vancouver, or plan a visit, and are interested in trying Verace Pizzeria, the address is 189 Keefer Place (near Tinseltown and Rogers Arena). For reservations or inquiries, the phone number is 604-669-5552.
( block to ogers Arena and Tinseltown)
ATHENE’S GREEK RESTAURANT’S VANCOUVER-GREEK PIZZA
The pizzas made by Athene’s Greek Restaurant on West Broadway in Vancouver are one of my favourite things in the whole wide world–at least in the category of food. They combine the best of Greek ingredients, the North American style thick crust with generous toppings, including lots of cheese, and the creativity and entrepreneurship of Vancouver’s Greek immigrant community, especially the pizza-chefs (not just pizza-makers) at Athene’s. There are other Greek restaurants in Vancouver that make similar-style pizzas, that I’ve enjoyed. But, in my experience, Athene’s makes the best pizzas of any of them, and Vancouver-Greek pizzas are the pizzas with the most pizzazz that I’ve ever eaten, anywhere.
I lived for extended periods in both Montreal and Toronto, and I’ve eaten a lot of Greek food and pizzas in both cities; but, in those cities, I’ve never come across the scrumpdelicious (or how about scrumpdeliciopolous?) pizzas made with Greek ingredients by Greek restaurants that we have here in Vancouver. When I’ve introduced visitors to Vancouver, including visitors who’ve travelled a fair amount and have eaten many pizzas in their travels, to Vancouver’s Greek pizzas, they’ve said they’ve never before had anything like these pizzas, not in Canada or the United States, and not even in Greece, so I suspect these pizzas may be unique. (If there are any pizza-eaters in other locales reading this post who can get these kinds of pizzas where you are, I’d be interested to know.)
Traditional Greek pizza (that I myself sampled in Athens, many years ago), and that seems to be served up by most North American Greek restaurants, is quite plain, consisting basically of just some tomato sauce, spices, and a little cheese on a baked rectangular slab of dough. These pizzas are more like Neapolitan pizzas (discussed earlier in this post) than the pizzas I get from Athene’s Greek Restaurant in Vancouver. Like Neapolitan pizza, traditional Greek pizza makes a decent snack; but it definitely needs something with it to make a meal.
My theory is Vancouver Greek pizzas evolved from competition among owners of Greek restaurants just here in Vancouver. Local competition has led to a special way of preparing certain food in other cities, like the bagels in Montreal, that are different from the bagels found elsewhere, or the famous Philadelphia cheesesteak sandwiches. Although it isn’t commonly recognized, something similar may have happened here with pizzas: one Greek restaurant in Vancouver may have started to experiment, and others started to copy the new style of pizza-making, and, in the end, many Greek restaurants here were competing for a share of the takeout pizza market, with a similar product.
I’ve been ordering pizza’s from Athene’s for home delivery about once a month for the past decade, and I’ve also eaten inside the restaurant several times during this period, when I’ve sampled other items from their wide menu of Greek dishes. Although I’ve enjoyed some of Athene’s other offerings, what I like most from their menu is their distinctive pizza. My personal preference is the Spinach and Feta, with Extra Tomato, one of which I’ll be having on New Year’s Eve. When there are several people to be fed, and there are meat-eaters in the group, I’ll include a lamb pizza in the order, which also is very good. (I do eat meat, but I generally prefer vegetarian pizzas.)
Unfortunately, I don’t presently have a picture of either of these varieties for this blog post. To give readers some idea of what I’m talking about, below is a picture I copied and pasted from the internet of Athene’s Ambrosia Pizza–basically an all-dressed pizza, but emphasizing Greek ingredients.
Athene’s Ambrosia Pizza
My personal preference is a simpler pizza, with fewer ingredients. Paraphrasing the pizza joke made earlier this year by a television reporter interviewing the Dalai Lama that was rerun a couple of nights ago on a local TV station in a roundup of some of the funniest television moments from 2012, when I get a Spinach and Feta, with Extra Tomatoes–and Please Don’t Scrimp on the Dill– pizza delivered from Athene’s, I feel like I’m one with everything. (My attempt at humour may have left my readers as puzzled as his Holiness was upon hearing the original version of the joke. There’s got to be a better way of wording that . . . )
When I get my pizza from Athene’s on New Year’s Eve, I’ll take a picture of it and include it here.
If you want your own Athene’s pizza for New Year’s Eve, or any other time, the phone number is 604-731-4135. (Free delivery is only for the west side of Vancouver.) Click here for the takeout and delivery menu.