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Sept. 26, 2021

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Three places in Vancouver that serve up ’90s pizza pies

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The Hurricane is Juliano's signature pie. It's topped with pepperoni, salami, onions, Canadian bacon, mushrooms, green peppers, black olives, beef and sausage.
The Hurricane is Juliano's signature pie. It's topped with pepperoni, salami, onions, Canadian bacon, mushrooms, green peppers, black olives, beef and sausage. (Contributed by Juliano's Pizzeria) Photo Gallery

Nineties pizza is the unexpected takeout hero of the pandemic era. If this were a sci-fi movie, Theodore “Ted” Logan III and Bill S. Preston Esq. from “Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure” would encounter some future dude who tells them a pandemic will take over the planet in 2020. To save the world, they must create a most excellent pizza that can be stored under a couch cushion for a week and still taste good.

Nineties pizza is the type of pie that dominated the food scene in the United States during the late 1980s and throughout the 1990s. These generously sized pies have a durable crust topped with a pile of toppings like barbecue sauce, chicken and pineapples that aren’t found on pizzas made in Naples, Italy, the birthplace of pizza.

In normal times, ’90s pizza can get overlooked for newer or more fashionable styles, but during the pandemic, this pizza proved valuable. It comes in large sizes, tastes good after a long car ride from the restaurant, reheats well, and lasts in the fridge for at least a week. Here are three places in Vancouver that serve up reliable ’90s pies. 

Vinnie’s Pizza

1000 Main St.; 360-694-2500; vinniespizzavancouver.com

Vinnie Coco Jr. opened his namesake pizza place in downtown Vancouver in 2012. He learned pizza-making from his Sicilian grandfather, Salvatore Oliveri.

“This pizza is very American,” Coco said. “It’s a pizza style born in America by Italians.”

For the dough, he uses a high-gluten flour, not the traditional Italian finely ground 00 flour, and adds eggs so it’s fluffy yet substantial. He makes his pizza sauce with California tomatoes, oregano, garlic, pepper and salt. Blocks of whole-milk mozzarella cheese, from Grande Cheese Co. in Wisconsin, are shredded in house to top the pizza. The hand-tossed dough – covered with sauce, cheese, and a multitude of toppings – bakes in a deck oven. This combination of durable and flavorful ingredients formed into generously sized pies is the magic that make Vinnie’s Pizza a pandemic favorite.

Pizza sales at Vinnie’s are at an all-time high, but revenue is lower because of the loss of alcohol sales from indoor dining.

“We’re making more pizza than we ever had,” Coco said.

Juliano’s Pizzeria

15606 S.E. Mill Plain Blvd.; 360-254-1286; julianospizza.com

The Grateful Dead quote on the front door of Juliano’s — “What a long, strange trip it’s been” — could summarize this last year or a visit to Juliano’s, or both. So many things about this place imply an altered state: whirls of bright tie-dye, a rainbow of dancing bears hung from the ceiling, a poster of Jerry Garcia that seems to grin at you no matter where you sit, and enormous pizzas piled with a mountain of oddly combined toppings.

It’s not surprising that Steve Juliano, the founder, moved to the Portland area from his native New York to follow the Grateful Dead. He worked at Flying Pie Pizzeria in Portland before opening his own place in Vancouver. The restaurant was built around a special three-tiered oven that still makes pizzas today.

The current owner, Kim Meadors, bought the place from Steve Juliano in 2000. Only after all the papers were signed would he share his top-secret pizza crust recipe. Since then, Meadors hasn’t changed a thing. The Hurricane — piled with a mountain of pepperoni, salami, onions, Canadian bacon, mushrooms, green peppers, black olives, beef and sausage — continues to be a bestseller.

The Drunken Hawaiian, a newer addition to the menu, is the second-most popular pie. This unusual mix of Canadian bacon, pineapple, sausage and a layer of creamy Alfredo sauce was created by two guys in the kitchen looking for new flavor combinations.

Meadors’ favorite is the cheese pizza.

“Steve would say, ‘When you go and look at a pizzeria, you can tell how good it is by their cheese pizza,’ ” she said.

NYC Pizzeria

700 S.E. Chkalov Drive; 360-882-7670; nycpizzeria-van.com

Makhan Singh made pizza in New York City for 16 years before moving to Vancouver. In 2007, he opened NYC Pizzeria, offering the kind of stone-baked, hand-tossed pizza famously associated with the Big Apple.

“I wanted to bring something different, and the people love it,” Singh said.

At his restaurant, he began to experiment.

“I’m from India. I worked with a Greek guy in New York City. As soon as we opened, I brought my own toppings,” he said. “I just go with my own ideas. I don’t want to copy anyone.”

Singh’s hometown of Punjab influenced the Indian pizzas that he offers in his Cascade Park shop. The Punjabi Special with tandoori chicken, ginger, onion, hot peppers, roasted garlic and cilantro is an example of fusion done right. The marinated chicken stays tender, and the overall dish has the ideal combination of sweet, spicy, creamy and crunchy.

When I first encountered this pie in 2018, Indian pizza was a surprise. However, I quickly realized that pizza crust is a flatbread like naan. Indian pizza is just Indian food baked on naan-like bread so you can easily wrap the bread around all the ingredients on top. It’s strange that this delicious combination hasn’t taken over the United States while less-appetizing fusion dishes flourish.

Recently, Singh added a palak paneer pizza with spinach, marinated cheese, onion, Serrano pepper, ginger and a special Indian-inspired white sauce to the menu. He spent a lot of time experimenting with various spices to create the right sauce for this new pizza.

“I let my employees and customers try it to see if they liked it,” he said.

Bill and Ted didn’t make these pizzas to save us from the pandemic, but they’re still totally righteous. Dust off an old Nirvana CD, cue up some “Wayne’s World” “Saturday Night Live” skits on YouTube, and put on a pair of faded jeans with the knees cut out to fully enjoy the ’90s-ness of these most excellent pies.

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