Nina Pizza Napolitaine: Sweet Memories of Naples

Catherine Genest
Published on May 13, 2021
Wood-fired oven at Nina Pizza Napolitaine
Simon Jodoin / Tour du Québec

It’s not every restaurant that opens its doors and triggers a small revolution in its sector, a veritable culinary earthquake in its home town. Nina Pizza Napolitaine’s arrival on the Québec City scene garnered much attention, both downtown and in neighbouring districts.

The restaurant has been operating on Rue Saint-Anselme since 2013, with pizzaiolos toiling at the wood-fired oven that heats to 900 degrees Fahrenheit, exuding an intoxicating aroma as it cooks freshly kneaded dough. An ambiance—practically a performance—that sets the tone for the gastronomic experience that follows.

Whether you opt for the Margherita ++ (with mozzarella di bufala, please) or a creation like the Salsiccia e Rapini or Greenpoint, you’ll get a taste of heaven. “Nina Pizza came from me,” said co-owner Pénélope Lachapelle. “On a trip to New York, I had a Neapolitan pizza made by a Neapolitan, and I basically had an epiphany. In spite of the city’s vast array of culinary options, I ate the same pizza three times in two days. I decided that this was definitely what I had to do in life. I created a business plan, I looked for a place to get trained, and all of my research led me back to the restaurant where I first tasted that pizza, where it all began. The owner, Roberto Caporuscio, is the U.S. President of the Association of Neapolitan Pizzaiuoli. He has his own school.”
 

After taking the two-week course under the grand master, and receiving their diplomas, Pénélope and her partner Lucie Nadeau were admitted into a brotherhood that has no borders. An official professional certification based on peer recognition, a community to which very few Québec merchants can boast they belong. “Neapolitan pizza is huge. In Naples, obviously, but throughout the world too. There’s a technique, and certain products to use. To some, it’s like a controlled appellation.” Stretching the dough and cooking it requires knowhow that isn’t gained overnight. Being a pizzaïola isn’t something you improvise,” explained the businesswoman. “We learned the entire process for making authentic Neapolitan pizza and then we showed our employees.” 

This quest for true authenticity extends right into the restaurant’s dining room. The oven facing the lobby of the Lower Town location was a deliberate choice on the part of the co-owners. This custom, imported oven was the subject of a successful fundraising campaign on La Ruche a few years ago. Pénélope puts it into layman’s terms: “It’s incredibly hot, it gives the dough a thermal shock. Our oven is from Naples. It was made by Stefano Ferrara, a third-generation artisan and oven manufacturer from father to son. It’s a whole technique. We visited his workshop two years ago and you aren’t allowed into the back to see how the ovens are made. It’s a secret. We had ours brought over by boat in a container. What great memories!” 

Like an Emerging Artists’ Café

The success of Nina Pizza Napolitaine was almost immediate—the founders didn’t even have to advertise. Customers are still elbowing their way in the door—happily and politely!—and the restaurant has become a hub among residents of the Saint-Roch neighbourhood, for discussion and exchange. Many of the restaurant’s cooks and servers are artists. The mural by Kaël Mercader and Phelipe Soldevila on the wall of the parking area at the main restaurant bears witness to this: it’s a playful work of art evoking the circus world, and it’s sure to make you smile.

Québec City inhabitants have truly embraced the establishment, enjoying great pizza in a lively environment. Whether seated among friends in the dining room or casually at the counter, you may well spot some familiar faces or musicians like Hubert Lenoir and Jérôme 50 enjoying a pizza along with a negroni or nice glass of red wine. Nina Pizza Napolitaine is a favourite at lunchtime. The pizza crust—just supple and crisp enough that competitors are struggling to imitate it—has a long list of aficionados, thanks in part to the restaurant’s proximity to new office buildings in the area. “We really wanted to just make one thing—pizza—and make it the very best,” concluded Pénélope. 
 

Up the Hill

In early 2020, the partners finally scaled up the hill and opened a second location in Upper Town, right next to Old Québec, in the Saint-Jean-Baptiste neighbourhood. “The response has already been fantastic. We’ve had lots of opportunities... We could have opened a dozen restaurants, but the idea of a franchise doesn’t interest us. It’s hard to stay on mission and not dilute things.”

Loyal to their vision and to their passion for pizza, which has been a driving force since Pénélope’s famous trip to New York, the owners have the wind in their sails and are staying the course. 

Nina Pizza
2:33
Sweet Memories of Naples at Nina Pizza Napolitaine
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