Today, Feb. 9, marks Pizza Day, 24 hours to pay homage to your favourite pie.
What better day to reflect on the true meaning of pizza, for not since the noodle’s precipitous journey from China to Europe has there been as inescapable a dish.
From its suspected origins some 2,000 years ago in Ancient Greece to the often-cited Neapolitan benchmark of Italian authenticity, pizza has bent to the whims of local tastes and foodie fads. In so doing it has become a truly global dish, with enthusiasts the world over looking to put their stamp on a simple circle (or rectangle) of dough.
Whether that takes the form of an Australian kangaroo steak, a South Korean rice-crust or a $1,000 caviar-topped pie in Manhattan, the pizza can both nod to nostalgia or sit on the bleeding edge of culinary experimentation.
Here in the Tri-Cities, it’s tough to say when pizza first arrived, even tougher to pick a local favourite. But it's also hard to argue for a more established Tri-City pizza institution than that of Me-n-Ed’s Pizza Parlor along Austin Avenue.
The first shop opened up in Burnaby 50 years ago last year. At the time, it had ties to a chain of pizza joints in California’s San Joaquin Valley (rumour has it the neighbourhoods around Fresno are still littered with Me-n-Ed's doppelgangers).
But those ties were cut off early, shortly after the original owner, Doug Price, migrated out from Saskatchewan to open up shop.
By the early ‘70s, Price launched a second parlour in Coquitlam, one that turns 45-years-old this month. From the beginning, and for better or worse, their crust set them apart.
Napoletana Style rigidly adheres to an exact proportion of ingredients, specific dimensions and time in oven — all fine qualities you can count on in the pies of Tri-City establishments like Spacca Napoli in Port Moody or Via Tevere in East Vancouver.
But in the same way that pizza went deep dish in Chicago, or how Brooklyners prefer their slices big, floppy and with a crunchy crust, Me-n-Ed’s rolls out its own secret dough.
“It’s lots of folding. It goes through our dough machine. We fold flour in at least 100 times,” said Richard Florian, who bought the pizzerias decades ago with his wife Cris.
What comes out of the oven is a flaky crust, thin through the bottom and layered and crispy around the edges. Their unique take on the pizza has won over a lot of die-hard fans, and the Florians have opened up two more pizzerias, one in Port Coquitlam in the late ‘90s, and more recently, another in Langley.
But for those who have never tasted Me-n-Ed's crust, the first bites can be jarring.
“We can tell when it’s a first-timer,” said Cris Florian, laughing to herself. “They say, ‘Wow, this isn’t pizza!’”
While staying true to the roots of the Me-n-Ed’s crust recipe, when it comes to toppings, the Florians are constantly tinkering around the edges in search of bold flavours and new presentations.
Where others flock to mozzarella, the Florians blend six kinds of cheese, including Monterey Jack, mozzarella, cheddar, provolone piccante and Parmigiano-Reggiano.
Over the years, the Florians have looked for inspiration abroad. A few years ago, they went on a pizza tour of Italy, starting in the north and working their way towards Sicily. With every region came another crust, another set of toppings.
In Rome, the Florians marvelled at a pizza tiled in halved boccaccini and cherry tomatoes. Returning home, Cris and Richard started to experiment, adding capicollo, fresh basil and cracked pepper. The Soprano — the show was popular at the time — has become one of their best sellers.
Other pizza pies have come from closer to home, sometimes a staff-invention, other times drawing inspiration from the latest food fad, like the Juliet, which boasts kale as a main ingredient.
But where some recipes have carved out their place on the menu, others — “real winners, beautiful pizzas,” said Richard Florian — never took off.
In one of their latest creations, Florian’s son, who runs the parlour in Langley, spent months trying to convince staff and his parents that a pickle pizza would garner its own spot in the pantheon of pies.
“For three months we said, ‘No,’” said Richard Florian. “Surprisingly, it was good.”
There next stab at the 2,000-year-old staple: the Romeo, just in time for Valentine’s Day.
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