There must be at least as many pizzerias in Ontario as there are in Naples, but there are only three certified by The Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana (VPN) as serving authentic Neapolitan pizza. And there is only one in the Niagara Region, Pie’za Pizzeria.
Verace Pizza Napoletana (VPN) Association is an Italian designation that governs the strict adherence to the ancient artisan traditions of authentic Neapolitan pizza making. Dough at Pie’za is handmade on a marble slab using purified water; a single-variety yeast; sea salt and GMO-free Caputo 00 flour imported directly from Naples. It is then fermented for 24 hours. The pizza cannot be larger than 12 inches in diameter; the crust must have a raised-edge and the centre must be thin and soft. Using a custom made 500lb wood-fired Acunto oven from Naples, maple and oak are burned at 750 degrees. Once the pizza is set, it takes between 90 seconds to 2 minutes to cook.
Maurizio Cesta, born and raised in Naples, is a former police officer who fell in love, followed his dreams and settled in Niagara Wine Country. Trained and certified as a pizzaiolo at the VPN Association in Napoli, he shares that, “There are hundreds of pizza makers in restaurants across the land that claim to be making Vera Pizza Napoletana, but they are simply riding the coattails of the original guardians of an ancient tradition.” In 2017 UNESCO awarded world heritage status to the art of Neopolitan pizza making. Cesta’s aim is to be Niagara-On-The-Lake’s true Neapolitan pizza master and to raise awareness of the cultural ritual of his Neopolitan tradition.
The mellifluous aromas from the kitchen set the expectations high. At first bite the mouthfeel, the immediate awareness of fresh quality ingredients, and the bold flavours coalescing seduce my palate and, right away I have THE answer for everyone who asks me where to dine in Niagara. My California Dreamin’ pizza, chock full of sundried tomatoes, black olives and artichokes recalibrates my palate to what a real pizza should be. Using hand crushed DOP San Marazno tomatoes, extra virgin Italian olive oil and local fresh mozzarella (fior de latte) as a base, Cesta recognizes that every single ingredient can and must be of the highest quality. Of course, being in the heart of Niagara-on-the-Lake, the wine menu showcases Niagara as well as Italian wines, as well as local beer.
My one regret is that I can only finish one pizza. I have to return another day for the Bianca pizza of mushrooms, ricotta, mozzarella and black truffle cream. The table next to me has ordered it, and the aromas and textures are so rich. Cesta is an artist, and he makes it look so easy, but he is all passion, all heart, and it shows in the quality of his pizza, the charm and congeniality of service, and even in the ceramics on which the pizza is served. Hand painted Solimene dishes add a wholesome authentic nuance. A display of art work and dishware is for sale on the second floor.
Niagara-on-the-Lake is home to quite a few pizzerias, but locals have discernible palates, so I’m not surprised that the recommendations of those who urged me to dine here have rung true. Wine and pizza can be so enjoyable together, and when I visit Niagara I seek the best wine with the best pizza. Cesta, together with his wife Laryssa, have created the perfect pair.
Pieza Pizzeria, 188 Victoria St, Niagara-on-the-Lake, 289-868-9191
Adam Waxman is an award winning travel journalist focusing on food, wine and well being. As well as an actor in film, television and formerly, the Stratford Festival, he is the Associate Publisher and Executive Editor of DINE and Destinations magazine.