654 E Broadway
It was a tough year for Terry Deane. He had sold Ah-Beetz in Abbotsford (his first pizza joint) over a year ago now to open his dream pizzeria here in Vancouver. It took a lot longer than he expected. A couple of missteps with city permits have stretched his resolve and his finances to the limit. Zoning issues prevented him from building out at his original location – a former gelato store on Victoria Drive. This insurmountable hurdle finally forced him to seek a new place.
After a few months of active searching, he settled on a location near the corner of Broadway and Fraser. This dog-eared space that formerly housed a Chinese restaurant wasn’t any easier – it took months to get proper permits in order, and the conversion process took much longer than he had anticipated. ”It was a mess. Everything was covered in grease,” he said.”It was a lot of work.”
He is now within a week of finally opening but he knows he isn’t out of the woods quite yet: the floor has to be sealed, the whole place needs dusting, some fixtures still need to be attached, and the kitchen needs supplies. But he is at least satisfied that the most critical component is working – and working very well: his new Ferarri-red Earthstone dual-fuel (gas and wood) ceramic dome pizza oven. The oven looks beautiful, but it was not his first choice. He had planned to purchase a specially designed Swedish oven, but the deal on this unit was too good to pass up. ”I was worried about the oven,” he confided, “but it works much better than I had expected.” The pies he made at tonight’s tasting were indeed picture perfect.
As a matter of disclosure I should mention that I have come to know Terry as a friend. We first met online on Chowhound where Terry was known for his strong opinions – especially about pizza. He had spent a number of years in New York City as a professional jazz saxophonist and an instrument repairman. It was there where he developed his devotion to pizza. “While living in New York, I literally lived on pizza. I ate it almost everyday.”
He knew then that he wanted to open a pizzeria when came back home to Canada. His first pizzeria, Ah-Beetz in his home town of Abbotsford, hardly qualified as a restaurant. It was no more than an industrial space that housed a run of the mill deck oven. Despite the spartan digs, he developed a legion of fans – many of whom would drive up from Vancouver just to have his pizza. “I had one guy come and order eight at a time, and he would take it home to freeze them.”
Terry has that rare obsessiveness that is a critical element in making an exemplary artisanal pie. In the world of pizza, the big names (Anthony Mangieri, Chris Bianco, et al.) share a similar uncompromising, single-minded stance: Their goal is to make the perfect pizza. Terry tweaks the formulation of his dough, his sauce and his sausage recipes endlessly. Tonight, he mentioned that the dough was less than ideal. “It was fermented for three days – one day too long. That’s why you see too much blistering. It was better last night.”
When talking about the new Neapolitan pizza trend that has (finally) hit this city, he just shrugs. “By the time the [Italian] ingredients arrive in Canada, none of it is fresh. You open a bag of Italian flour, it is usually expired and you smell nothing. The flour I use still smells like wheat.” Said flour is an organic Tipo 00 (fine milled) pizza flour sourced from Central Milling in Utah – the same stuff that legendary pizzaiolo Chris Bianco uses for his pizzas at Pizzeria Bianco in Phoenix. Terry has taken a similar tightly curated approach to his sources of olives, mozzarella, salumi, olive oil, and tomato sauce. “I’m trying to use local ingredients as much as possible.”
Tonight at the pre-opening, I met a number of Terry’s devotees – one of whom is another musician. “I’m not really that obsessive about a lot of things…but I am obsessive about pizza. That’s why I’m here.” He pauses to take a bite. “It was worth the wait.”