Chef fires up locally sourced pizza in downtown Vancouver

Nonavo brings fresh ingredients to wood-fired pizza at former beauty school site

By Brooks Johnson, Columbian Business Reporter

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You can believe Joey Chmiko when he says his restaurant uses only fresh ingredients, because he’s saying it as a Ridgefield farmer drops off boxes of tomatoes that smell as fresh as the summer garden they came from.

“Fresh is where we’re at,” said the flour-dusted chef and owner of Nonavo, a wood-fired pizzeria that recently opened in downtown Vancouver. “You buy good stuff, you don’t have to tweak too much.”

Nonavo Pizza quietly unlocked its doors last week inside a remodeled section of the former Vancouver School of Beauty on Sixth and Washington streets. Despite the soft opening, the shop is already selling out of lunch and dinner on occasion.

“I mix everything by hand and portion out 70 dough balls at a time,” Chmiko said, pulling out a container of wild yeast he cultivates himself tucked alongside house-made mozzarella. The limited supply of dough is driven in part by a lack of space to store

“People might get upset when we run out of dough, but to mass-produce it could hurt the quality,” said Alder Suttles, Chmiko’s wife and partner in the business.

The couple met on the East Coast, where Chmiko grew up and spent years in restaurants, but the two moved to the area after their daughter, Frankie, was born. Suttles is an artist and Portland native who has family roots in Vancouver that trace back to the Andresens.

“It’s a real family affair,” she said with her 2-year-old daughter on her lap, coloring away.

Little Frankie has a job at the restaurant, too — delivering crayons and coloring paper to kids who come in, as she did with the son of Ridgefield farmer Amber Baker, who dropped off tomatoes, kale, dill and apples on Wednesday afternoon fresh from Red Truck Farm.

“It’s all about the good food,” Chmiko said. “Hopefully that translates into something people enjoy.”

Nonavo’s menu follows the tradition of Naples cuisine, with wood-fired basics such as margherita and wild-foraged mushroom pizzas joined by adventures in bolognese, arugula pesto and a staple from Trenton, N.J. — tomato pie with the sauce on top. A few simple salads and beer and wine round out the menu.

“You can walk out with a delicious pizza and a glass of wine for 15 bucks,” Suttles said from the shop’s characteristic white booths with wood stacked between them.

The art that decorates the white walls, ceiling and trim are portraits drawn by friends and family members. It’s a sendup of East Coast pizzeria tradition to put famous people on the walls, the couple said.

“We asked them to draw a portrait of someone you love,” Suttles said. “Now we’re surrounded by people we love.”

The centerpiece of the restaurant is the black-and-white-tiled wood-fired oven, which Chmiko fed as he and his small staff prepared the space for dinner. Nonavo is open Tuesdays through Sundays from noon to 3 p.m. and 5 to 9 p.m., with a limited amount of dough for both lunch and dinner.

“You make what you need for the day and do it again tomorrow,” he said.

Chmiko was written up in Bon Apetit magazine in 2010 for the famed fried chicken he made at a pub in Philadelphia. As Nonavo Pizza takes off, Chmiko hinted he might dream up a fried chicken spot for Vancouver’s downtown waterfront.

“Or maybe sandwiches. We could use more sandwiches.”

Brooks Johnson: 360-735-4547; brooks.johnson@columbian.com; twitter.com/readbrooks