I have been enjoying the Edmonton start-up pizzeria known as Famoso Neapolitan Pizzeria for a long time. Its simplicity, style, and unconventional approach have helped it make a significant impact on the Edmonton food scene.
The pizzeria introduced a new style of pizza into a city that, until then, was more or less content with the status quo, and now Edmonton craves more, as evidenced by its rapid expansion. The pizza style, from Naples, involves using high heat in a wood-fired oven. It takes approximately 90 seconds to cook the thin pizzas, although I ask for mine well-done, which, I think, adds a few more seconds in the chamber and produces a slightly singed product.
Although there are some quirks that bother me (for example, they will never bring out the parmesan cheese and other condiments until after your pizza has arrived), there is so much that I do love. The daily specials and happy hour offerings are very generous. The regular prices are reasonable. The pizza is delicious.
Although Boston Pizza is also from Edmonton, their style of pizza is similar to other local offerings. The brains behind Famoso saw that there was a gap in the pizza market, and that other Canadian cities were successfully serving Neapolitan pies. But there is something about Famoso that makes it uniquely Edmontonian, and that adds to its charm. I think it might be that it is unpretentious while producing high quality.
The pizzeria is unpretentious by design, including their (failed) initial attempt that saw it as a hybrid take-out format with seating. There was often confusion and awkwardness when customers were asked to line up at the counter and pay for their pizza before it arrived, but it was then served to them on ceramic plates at nice tables. Wait staff often took drink and dessert orders after customers were seated (and then the customers would have to pay again). This often resulted in confusion over how to tip, especially for first-time customers.
While Famoso now offers “full service,” it is still casual and quick. You can get your pizza pretty fast, but Karly and I usually draw out our experience, ordering wine and appetizers first. They also offer salads, pastas, and other Italian-themed dishes.
While I have tried most items on the menu (although I would never put chicken or BBQ sauce on pizza—some items make my head shake), Karly and I both usually order the same thing to share, at the 97 Street location: a full-sized meat-filled Sicilian pizza, with extra cheese, well-done, and a full Caprese salad with pistachio pesto. I also really enjoy the prosciutto-wrapped mozza balls, and the simple pepperoni and mushroom pizza is great, too. And everything is better with fresh basil on top.
My first Famoso experience, which involved sharing a margherita pizza during a business lunch, inspired my first novel, Murder By Pizza. For this, I am truly grateful. Murder By Pizza is a comedy about a pizza chef who goes against the grain of his contemporaries to produce fantastic results. Although Famoso provided the initial inspiration, I would say that the final expression of the book still plays notes inspired by the moment I stepped into the first Famoso on Jasper Avenue.
In composing Murder By Pizza, I began to contemplate the impact of pizza on culture. I always claim that everyone loves pizza, but instead of just celebrating ‘high culture’ (e.g. opera, fine art, etc.), I find that culinary traditions are also a fine contributor to everyday culture, including Canadian identity. For this reason, I have embarked upon another project, which is to compile a national anthology of true stories, poems, and pizza recipes that explore the significance that pizza has had on shaping Canadian identity. Such stories to be explored could include pivotal life experiences such as wedding proposals over pizza, awkward first dates, or high school graduation parties. Other questions that could be asked: What happened when the delivery man never showed up? Did you ever make pizza from scratch with wonderful or disastrous results? This anthology is currently accepting submissions until March 15, 2017. Perhaps a story will be submitted that is connected to a Famoso experience, but my fingers are crossed that it will be a Famoso recipe, not a story, that I will receive.
The brains behind this successful Edmonton pizza shop are a trio of entrepreneurs: Justin Lussier, Christian Bullock, and Jason Allard, and I want to commend them. There are now many Famoso locations, and each one has its own distinctive character, which also espouses their originality.
Now, before I close this post, I also want to give a shout-out to another favourite of mine, Tony’s Pizza Palace. Many Edmontonians will tell you that this is the best pizza in town, and it has been around for 30 years, which is quite the testament.
Tony’s also deserves praise for originality, and I admire their entrepreneurial spirit too. I support small businesses, especially restaurants. I feel that anyone who wants to bring their own recipe forward, for people to enjoy, is really offering a piece of their soul. There is a high rate of failure among restaurants, and proprietors put everything on the line to share their love. Somehow, starting a restaurant is categorically different to me than, say, opening a drug store—but all small businesses help form the heart of a community, and all should be supported.
Anyway, you will not do wrong by going to Tony’s. Tony’s is great, but Famoso, in my opinion, is a touch better. But, hey, why don’t you just try both?
J.D. #muniYEG #YEG #Famoso
If you liked this, please consider reading one of my novels. I write on a variety of topics. The broad themes of my fiction include individualism versus collective thought, and the importance of culture and identity in society. I sometimes use humour as a tool. I sometimes use pity. Sit back, click, and enjoy.