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By Michael White
Is pizza something to be taken seriously? You may not think so, and fair enough.
Pizza, after all, is one of the most democratic, easily accessible foodstuffs we have. Whether you have billions of dollars to your name or are one lapsed paycheque from eviction, you probably have the means to acquire some. Not even “expensive” pizza is expensive in the grand scheme. (I don’t count the sort of three- and four-figure stunt pies that come bedecked with gold leaf or a forest’s worth of black truffle. Those exist only for bragging rights, not the pleasure of eating.) What could be serious about something available to everyone, virtually everywhere? Pizza is so lacking in seriousness that Pizza Hut exists — the physical manifestation of a joke, albeit a cruel one. (And before you accuse me of snobbery, know that I’m a Domino’s apologist.)
And yet…. If pizza isn’t serious, consider how you feel when you take a bite of disappointing pizza. The heartbreak. The indignation! The betrayal! How could so ostensibly reliable a comfort breaks its promise? It doesn’t matter where you are or how much you paid — a large $12 delivery pie, ordered in a drunken haze at half past midnight, owes itself to you to be delicious because this is pizza’s one job. Pizza is serious, you see, because we love it like few other things, and love is serious. Vegans love pizza so much they’ve bent over backward to reengineer it to keep it in their lives. (Acknowledge yourselves, Virtuous Pie.) Pizza is so serious a non-profit association exists in Italy solely to define and uphold the hyper-specific traditions of Neapolitan pizza-making. (Vancouver’s own Nicli Antica Pizzeria and Via Tevere, and Cotto, in both North Burnaby and Surrey, meet their criteria. Prior to 10 years ago, no Greater Vancouver pizzerias did.)
Walking a tightrope between serious and its polar opposite is Anthem Pizza, which launched not long ago, in the middle of November. There is no storefront; instead, takeout and delivery are conducted from the kitchens of The Five Point and Park Drive, two of Anthem owner Matt Thompson’s other establishments. (His burgeoning empire also includes Alphabet City and The Cannibal Café.)
Anthem arrives wrapped in a three-pronged concept so novel, amusing and kind-hearted, it threatens to eclipse their food. Prong one: In keeping with The Cannibal Café’s defining rock ’n’ roll aesthetic (it’s named after a song by Canadian punk trailblazers SNFU, and the walls are papered with vintage gig flyers), each of Anthem’s 14-inch pies is a tribute — in name, if not in spirit — to a band, album or song. Peruse the menu and find nods to Iggy Pop (the “Blah Blah Blah”; Alfredo sauce, mozzarella, fior di latte, Grana Padano, provolone, and gorgonzola), Beastie Boys (the “Sabotage”; mozzarella, chorizo, pepperoni, roasted chicken, and prosciutto) and the Clash (the “Stay Free”; tomato sauce and mozzarella). How a vegetarian pie came to be named after Suicidal Tendencies’ hardcore perennial “Institutionalized” presumably involved a late-night drinking game and a droll sense of humour.
Prong two: Partial proceeds from every pizza go to charitable causes, which rotate every three months. (At the time of this writing, the BC Children’s Hospital Foundation and the musician-focused Unison Benevolent Fund are the beneficiaries.) Prong three: Every pizza box wears a pasted-on graphic created by a local artist; those artworks are available as posters and T-shirts from Anthem’s online shop, where proceeds also go to charity.
Fortunately, Anthem’s wares aren’t a mere afterthought to clever marketing. Their pizzas aren’t about to unseat the likes of Via Tevere or Pizzeria Farina from the mountaintop where they so long ago planted their flags, but they aren’t trying to. These are populist pizzas — better than they have to be and more than good enough. You won’t find the seductive charred blisters of a wood-fired oven, nor a sauce made with the unmistakable tang of San Marzano tomatoes. What you will find is a lovely, appropriately uncomplicated Margherita pie (named after Motorhead’s “Ace of Spades,” because why not), topped with good-quality fior di latte and fresh basil leaves; and the David Bowie-acknowledging “Hunky Dory,” essentially a hifalutin interpretation of the always-controversial Hawaiian pizza, elevated by the addition of banana pepper, mildly funky prosciutto, and a bright pineapple jam that isn’t as cloyingly sweet as the Del Monte chunks typically used for this purpose. (Kley, incidentally, lost his mind over this one.)
Anthem also offers a variety of wings — the very same that have accompanied so many pitchers of beer at The Five Point (I recommend the Black Dragon flavour, basted with a mix of soy and Sriracha; $14) — and a pair of salads ($14 each), one of which earns extra points for being named J.J. Kale. Frankly, J.J. Cale isn’t the least bit punk rock, but then neither is salad.
Anthem’s pizzas currently cost $18 to $24 each, which is notably more than you would pay for some of the city’s most revered pies. But in the comfort of your home, with or without your bubble, and alongside a sympathetic adult libation (we murdered a bottle of this bargain Okanagan red blend), these pizzas are very easy to love. And all the more for the good they seek to inject back into the community. In times like these, could such a goal be any more serious?
(Photo: Kley Klemens)