Clearly we take a bit longer to tire of culinary trends. Want proof? You can't swing a cat without hitting an artisanal burger stop. Then there's the tiresome proliferation of poutine on virtually every menu not to mention the glamorization of, yes, the taco.
Then of course there is pizza. But not just any pizza. Still gaining gourmet ground is the Neopolitan pizza certified by the Associazione Vera Pizza Napoletana. You know the ones being served to hordes of people at places like Pizzeria Lib
retto and Queen Margarita.
But there's a new pizza player in town. And if the aim of the Famoso Neopolitan Pizza chain is to be comfortable, casual, and modern with bright energetic colours and modern design elements, then mission accomplished. Even smarter for the Edmonton-based franchise was opening in the Annex so they could expand the area's main offering beyond sushi or falafel to include "Neapolitan" pizzas for the masses, a budget-friendly alternative where you don't have to worry about reservations. And if you've ever tried to just drop by a Pizzeria Libretto, you'll know just how appealing that policy is.
Famoso's bell-shaped pizza oven is so hot, it reaches temperatures of 900 degrees. That means these pies only take about 90 seconds to cook. And while these local pizza chefs may not be certified by the Associazione Vera Pizza Napoletana for making authentic Neopolitan pizzas, the company's CEOs went to Naples to get certified. Certified or not, Famoso still follows many of the same rigid rules, using many of the same ingredients like low-gluten, easier-to-digest Caputo '00' flour imported from Naples, hand-milled whole Campania tomatoes from Southern Italy, fresh basil and fior di latte, fresh, whole-milk mozzarella.
And though there are a few sandwiches and salads to choose for added variety, the majority of the menu is comprised of red, white and "new world" pies. Not a pasta dish in sight. That's the kind of focus Famoso promises to ensure the same success they've had in Edmonton with line-ups lasting over an hour.
Starters are simple and simply good. Sure, trendy trattorias serve marinated kalamata olives ($3). But how many are also oven-roasted in a spicy olive oil with oregano and topped with a hefty chunk of feta. Prosciutto wrapped mozzarella balls (3/$10; 6/$18) are certainly a refreshing change from the too-typical arancini. But what intrigues most is the campania tomato sauce the balls sit in. Even though a trifle thin, it delivers a robust flavour with incredible depth.
A Sophia Loren sandwich ($11), with layers of roasted red pepper, zucchini, mushrooms and onions, and melted provolone and a pesto-ricotta cheese, is as flawless as the actress herself. But more interesting here is the "bread" itself, which is actually a pizza crust brushed with extra virgin olive oil, garlic and oregano then topped with fresh basil and pecorino romano cheese. Wow.
Still, the pizzas are the main attraction and they come in two sizes: full (11-inches) or small "pizzettas" (small). They are hand-stretched and tossed and show off a soft and crispy crust with a nice chew. But the problem with a funghi "tartufo" pizza ($14.50) isn't the dough or the nice drizzle of truffle oil. It's the fact that they slice and dice the oyster mushrooms until they're barely recognizable. Why bother? All we can make out are the typical white mushrooms. A similar issue impacts the San Andreas ($14.50). A nice crust is topped with a beautiful bianca sauce, under ripe slices of avocado and cream. Apparently there is also supposed to be some chili-lime marinated roasted chicken. Could've fooled me. And an Italian sausage pizza ($14.50) with roasted mushrooms and peppers is serviceable.
But desserts are an inventive treat, given a kind of special attention you don't often find at a chain. Pineapple panna cotta ($4.50) sports the perfect jiggle with a subtle hint of vanilla. Sided with two scoops of crushed pineapple topped with coconut shavings, this is one sweet summer refresher. But it's the authentic Tiramisu ($6) that will blow your mind. A mascarpone cream sits atop a sponge cake base drenched with espresso and dusted with cocoa. But it's not the classic ingredients that make this dish so fantastic; what's amazing is that something so fresh and light traveled frozen all the way from Milan. You'd swear on your nona's life that it was made in house. Bravo.
And that's exactly the kind of thing that will make Famoso famous fast. Corporate chef Nathan Henry goes to great lengths to satisfy for even some of the simplest dishes. With such attention to key ingredients and deals like pizza and a movie for $16, and on Wednesdays cheap wine as well as free bruschetta or salad with every pizza, they seem to have struck the right balance between affordable finer Italian fast food and family-friendly restaurant chain. Iron out a few creases in that hot, hectic kitchen and I'll bet that Famoso in no time will be able stand up to the intense scrutiny of any food snob. Certified, or not.