Pizzeria Prima Strada
105 230 Cook Street
I lamented about my city’s rather pathetic pizza scene here on Foodsophy recently and how I have to travel quite a distance to get a good slice. My quest for good pizza has taken me to Pizzeria Prima Strada in Victoria a three hour ferry trip away from Vancouver.
How I wish we had a place like this in Vancouver: a pizzeria that takes that extra step to make you a good pie.
Prima Strada bakes their pies in an imported Italian wood-fired clay brick oven. Wood-fired ovens are slowly becoming extinct in urban areas due to fire and air quality concerns. City inspectors have instituted a virtual moratorium on their construction in Vancouver. (For example – Gastown’s Incendio, which burned down last year replaced their wood oven with a gas-fired model when they re-opened.)
Prima Strada is striving for a true Neapolitan pizza – a style of pizza so glorified that it has been codified by the certification agency Vera Pizza Napoletana.
According to the VPN, a “real” Pizza Napoletana calls for a hot (about 800F) wood-fired brick or clay oven, the use of San Marzano plum tomatoes, real fior di latte or buffula mozzarella cheese, and fine-milled tipo 00 or 0 white high-gluten wheat flour. The dough has to be leavened with a sourdough starter or regular brewers’ yeast and it should be hand stretched without mechanical aids like rolling pins or sheeters.
Prima Strada follows all the guidelines set by the VPN Association, but they seem to have chosen not to be certified. (There is an on-going debate regarding the value of VPN certification in the pizza world).
Prima Strada’s dough contains only water, flour, sourdough starter, and salt. A counter to the other locally-sourced ingredients, Prima Strada imports Caputo Tipo 00 flour from Italy to make their dough. (Ironically, the wheat used to make the flour could very well have come from Canada.) The dough is slowly risen in the cooler which enhances its workability and imparts a tart complexity to the flavour. The pizzaiolos that I have talked to have told me that the finely milled Tipo 00 is the ideal flour if you have a blazing hot oven.
Prima Strada’s cheese is from Natural Pastures one of only a handful of organic buffallo mozzarella cheese makers in North America and one of only two in Canada. Natural Pastures gets their water buffalo milk Fairburn Farms (Cowichan Bay) which raises the only water buffalo herd in Canada.
The tomato sauce is very simple – it tastes only of tomatoes, olive oil and salt. Their Funghi (my favourite here) uses a Porcini Cream sauce. Their salumi is house made or specially made for them by Choux Choux Charcuterie.
The ovens at Prima Strada run at around 875F. The hearth floor is probably at around 750-800F. At these temperatures, the pizza cooks in less than two minutes. The resultant crust is egg-shell crispy on the outside and tender in the crumb. It is marked by a charred pattern called “leoparding” – small black spots where bubbles in the dough have been blackened by the heat.
The pies are a pleasure to eat – fragrant and addicting and definitely tasting of Naples.
Addendum (Dec 12)
I should expand a bit on the online reports of “sogginess” of this pizza. Anyone who has had real Napoletana pizza in Naples (eg at Da Michele, Ciro, Di Matteo, et al.) will tell you that the pizza there is actually “soggy” by our standards. This is part of the reason why the pizza there is eaten with a knife and fork. It is often folded first to contain the sauce. There is a misconception that a Napoletan pizza is thin and crispy overall…yes the crust is indeed thin and crispy in parts, but the center is always soft and “soggy.” So soft in fact, that you can roll it or fold it with ease. A common way of eating it there is folded into a portafolio - Italian for “wallet” or “briefcase”.