Like Vancouver, Calgary’s thin-crust/Neapolitan-style pizza scene has really taken off the past couple years. Several years ago when Ristorante Pulcinella first opened in Calgary, it was one of only places in Calgary serving Neapolitan-style pizza and one of the few places in Canada that is a member of the Associazione Pizzaioli Napoletani (APN). In order to maintain the Associazione Pizzaioli Napoletani (APN) membership status, the restaurant has to adhere to the strict guidelines of the Associazione Pizzaioli Napoletani for ingredients, dough, and cooking technique. In addition to Associazione Pizzaioli Napoletani (APN), there are as many as 15 other professional pizza, pizzeria and pizzaiolo trade associations in Italy, including the well-known Associazion Verace Pizza Napoletana, of which Nicli Antica Pizzeria in Vancouver is a member of and also which, the founders of Famoso trained with. Over the past few years, there have been a handful of pizzerias that have opened up in Calgary to join Ristorante Pulcinella on the thin-crust pizza scene. These include Una Pizza & Wine, Without Papers Pizza, Double Zero, LDV Pizza Bar, and Famoso Neapolitan Pizzeria. Out of this lot of pizzerias, Famoso is the only one that is a chain with several locations in Edmonton, one currently in Calgary and another to open later this year as well as one in Vancouver that just opened last week. There are also several other Famoso locations that are slated to open later this year throughout Alberta, BC, and even Ontario. I finally made it out to try the Famoso Neapolitan Pizzeria location here in Calgary two weekends ago with my food blogger friend, Anna of Anna’s Appetite.
Not all the Famoso locations are identical as some have actually have bell-shaped wood-fired ovens imported from Italy whereas other locations, such as this 4th Street location in Calgary, use gas-fired ovens. However, the ingredients and methods which they use to produce their pies are identical at all their locations. The dough is made with Caputo ‘00’ flour from Italy. ‘00’ refers to highly-refined, low gluten flour that produces a soft and crispy crust. After the dough is made, it is allowed to rest for 24 to 36 hours before being hand-stretched and hand-tossed into pizzas. The tomatoes they use are from the Campania region of Southern Italy. These tomatoes contain a lower acidity level and the natural sweetness supposedly helps them caramelize in the intense heat of the fire oven. As well, Famoso uses fior de latte cheese (fresh, whole-milk mozzarella) and fresh basil on their pies. The pizzas are baked for 90 seconds at 900°F (480°C) in the oven.
We started off sharing a half order of the Blackberry Arugula Salad ($8 for half; $12.50 for full order). This was one of their Spring/Summer Feature salads. It consisted of arugula, blackberries, candied pecans, goat cheese tossed in a house-made blackberry vinaigrette and was served with a wedge of flatbread. This salad sounded really good on paper but tasted just ok. I didn’t think the vinaigrette properly balanced out the pepperiness of the arugula. My favourite part was the candied pecans as they were delicious and addictive. I was a little taken aback by the pouffiness and doughiness of the flatbread wedge. In some ways, it reminded me of the Crazy Bread I used to get from Little Caesars as a kid. The flatbread wedge tasted ok as an accompaniment to the salad but I was really hoping it wasn’t a foreshadowing of what our pizzas would be like.
Our first pizza was the Prosciutto Arugula ($14.50). This was one of their Pizza Bianca or White Pizza offerings. All the Pizza Bianca (White Pizza) at Famoso are made with their Bianca sauce containing extra virgin olive oil, garlic, and oregano, along with fior-di-latte fresh mozzarella, fresh basil leaves, and pecorino romano cheese. The Prosciutto Arugula pizza is first baked, then topped with arugula, prosciutto, and pecorino romano. I’m not sure if it was because the pizza was first baked without the toppings or if the dough wasn’t stretched enough, but I found the crust to be quite thick and pouffy. It had the same chewiness and doughiness as the flatbread wedge we had with our salad and that was totally not what we were expecting. For a Neapolitan-style pizza, I would say that the pie may not have been baked long enough as the crust did not have enough charring and the bottom had no leoparding at all. Flavour-wise, this pizza was tasty and well-seasoned. Besides the crust, my only other quibble is that I wished the prosciutto slices would be shredded into smaller pieces so that I would get a bit of prosciutto in every bite rather than grabbing the whole prosciutto slice in the first bite since I wasn’t able to bite it apart as it was on the stringy side.
For our second pizza, we tried the Funghi Tartufo ($14.50), which was one of their Pizza Rosso or Red Pizza. All Pizza Rosso (Red Pizza) at Famoso are made with Campania tomato sauce, fior-di-latte fresh mozzarella, fresh basil leaves, pecorino romano cheese. The additional toppings on our Funghi Tartufo consisted of roasted white mushrooms, oyster mushrooms, truffle oil, and reggiano parmesan. This was actually one of their Spring/Summer Feature pizzas. As far as texture of the crust goes, this pie more closely resembled what I was expecting of a Neapolitan pizza. This crust was significantly thinner than the one for the Prosciutto Arugula. The center was soft and floppy (but not raw) as I’d come to expect from Neapolitan-style pies. Nevertheless I still thought the pie could have been baked a bit longer in order to get some charring and blistering on the cornicione. Though the crust was much better on this pie, I’m not sure what happened but it was grossly under seasoned to the point of being bland. Both Anna and I had to top our slices with liberal amounts of grated parmesan in order to bring out the flavours of the toppings.
Overall, I felt underwhelmed by the pizzas that we ordered on this visit. Perhaps, we ordered the wrong pizzas, caught them on a bad day, or these two were not their strengths at this Famoso location. I chose these two pizzas because they happen to be my favourite and I’ve tried variations of these two at other pizzerias such as Without Papers here in Calgary, Nicli Antica Pizzeria in Vancouver, Pizzeria Delfina in San Francisco, and Nostrana in Portland. I didn’t find the versions we had from Famoso to be particularly exemplary. One thing that Famoso does have going for itself is that their price points are a quite bit lower than their competition such as Una Pizza & Wine and Without Papers. I wouldn’t object to going back if I was with a large group that voted to eat at Famoso. However, if I were to choose, I think there are better thin-crust pizzerias in town.
Famoso Neapolitan Pizzeria
105, 2303 4 St SW