For years, the Dente family would host dinner parties at their home, serving up heaps of hearty Italian food made from cherished family recipes.
Veterans of the Vancouver dining scene, they ran everything from German restaurants to neighbourhood-style pubs. But, for whatever reason, they never made the foray into the cuisine of their heritage.
"We're Italian and we've never opened an Italian restaurant," explained Maria Dente, owner of Whistler's newest pizzeria, Pizza Antico. "We just have a real passion for Italian food. (The menu features) so many old family recipes. It's one of those things where everybody would come over for dinner and be like, 'How do you not have an Italian restaurant? You guys are crazy.'"
Now the 33-year-old restaurateur is bringing a taste of the Old World to the mountains with her husband, Antonio, who hails from the birthplace of pizza, Naples, and knows a thing or two about what makes a primo pie.
"We both have a bit of an obsession with pizza," Dente admitted with a laugh.
Whistlerites can be thankful that Dente put that obsession to good use, training with renowned pizzaiolo Jose Barrios in Los Angeles to hone her craft and help devise the menu for her traditional pizzeria, which opened its doors in the former Bavaria location last month.
"He's been in Whistler twice so far," Dente said. "He'll come regularly to check product and quality and work on the menu."
So what makes Pizza Antico stand out in Whistler's already crowded pizza market? It's a simple, homemade approach that pays homage to the traditions of Napolitanos' famed pizza.
"I think that what we're producing is such a different product (from) everybody else," Dente said. "Our product is a true authentic Italian pizza. It's a thin crust and we are sticking to real Napolitano pizza requirements."
That means everything — quite literally — is created in house, from the tomato sauce made from a beloved family recipe, to the thin, puffed-crust dough, to the subtly spicy Calabrese sausage and an array of Italian cheeses.
You'll find a baker's dozen worth of pizzas on the menu that are a far cry from the late-night pizza parlours that dot the village. One bite of the rich pizza a la panna, covered in a cream sauce, pancetta, fiori di latti and ricotta cheeses and tossed with scallions, or the classic Diavola, topped with sausage, rapini and ricotta, and you'll start to wonder how beef and blue cheese became known as the resort's signature pizza in the first place.
Pizza Antico is Whistler's contribution to the latest trend taking over other culinary destinations when it comes to pizza: the realization that in most cases, less is indeed more.
"I think there are a lot more health conscious people out there and the era of loading a pizza with cheese, ham and salami is making everybody realize it's not that great for you," said Dente. "People are realizing if you're using really good, quality ingredients, you want to highlight those. You don't want to mask the flavours by covering the pizza in so many things you don't know what's what. You want these beautiful cheeses, meats and vegetables that you've created to be the highlight of the pizza."
But it's not just pizza you'll find in Dente's open kitchen. There's also a handful of salads on offer, and a quartet of homemade pastas that will have you dreaming up your next Italian getaway. Try the popular gnocchi di Antico, tossed in a garlic tomato sauce, or the vegetarian torchietti with roasted veggies and creamy ricotta, and wash it all down with the bar's extensive selection of craft beers and B.C. wines on tap.
Starting next week the restaurant will also open for breakfast and lunch. Pizza Antico should become a go-to spot for the over-caffeinated, as the restaurant owns the Rolls Royce of coffeemakers, a La Marzocca espresso machine, which can run into the five-figure price range. Starting at 7 a.m., they'll offer a variety of fresh-baked goods and pressed breakfast sandwiches seven days a week.
Although they've only been open a short time, Dente said feedback from customers has been overwhelmingly positive so far, although the best endorsement may have come during the restaurant's soft opening, when her husband's family flew in from Italy to sample the menu.
"They were over the moon," Dente beamed. "For them to see us making fresh cheese and all the things that were done when they were little, it's so special because as you get older you see some of these traditions die." Visit Pizza Antico's Facebook page for more information.
Recipe: Nina's Biscotti
In a bowl combine
- 5 1/4 cups unbleached flour
- 2 1/4 cups sugar
- 2 1/4 cups roasted ground almonds and hazelnuts (roast at 300 degrees until golden)
- 6 tablespoons of lemon rind
- 3 tablespoons of baking powder
- 6 eggs
- 1 cup olive oil
- 3 tablespoons vanilla
- 1 1/2 tablespoon of almond extract
- 2 tablespoons Amaretto liqueur
Blend in a separate bowl
Mixed until combined; do not over-mix. Divide dough into four sections and shape into logs approximately 12" x 3" on ungreased cookie sheet. Bake at 325ºF degrees for approximately 20 minutes, until golden on the outside.
Remove from oven and cut into ½" pieces. Place cookie on their sides, return to oven and bake until golden.