Darek Wozny is doing something very right.
Without a days-in-advance reservation or last-minute dumb luck, getting a table inside the chef/owner’s Santa Ana Pizzeria & Bistro is a tall order.
Since opening September 2010, the 40-seat restaurant south of St Vital Centre has earned a fierce following.
Generous portions, dozens of expected and unexpected pizza toppings (47-plus toppings including three kinds of bacon and 11 cheeses), great wine prices and out-of-the-box dishes keep the restaurant and catering company hustling seven days a week. (The restaurant closes Sundays for private parties.)
Inside the slick, steel grey and black interior, guests are greeted by a blast of aromatic garlic, baking pizzas and that familiar woody smokiness of a hard-working fireplace.
Indeed, wood-fired and stone-baked pizzas, and wood-fired pasta are the centrepiece on the menu. (Most meals are cooked in the wood-fired oven.)
Wood-fired pizzas have thinner, crispier crusts and fewer toppings while stone-baked pizzas are thicker, loaded up and prepared in a traditional pizza oven. Pizzas can be ordered either way.
The pollo pizza—topped with rosemary chicken, pancetta, wild mushrooms and arugula—had full-bodied, smoky flavour.
All pastas are made to order, parboiled on the stovetop and, surprisingly, finished al dente in the wood-fire oven. A meaty manicotti was a hearty, cheese-laden and tomato-rich meal and a half with unexpected fennel notes. Tortellini purses romance the senses with sweet, creamy ricotta filling. It is then tossed in bright and fragrant pesto sauce and topped with parmesan.
Meanwhile, a healthy plateful of crispy artichoke hearts was a great departure from usual starter options. Readied in extra virgin olive oil, flour and parsley, the tart bites were lightly pan fried and tossed with parmesan and sweet roasted red peppers.
The wood-fired Sicilian sausage with the signature La Bomba sauce is a fire-seeker’s delight. Piled high, Italian sausage slices are tossed with a spicy eggplant, zucchini, artichoke, and roasted red pepper mince.
Santa Ana’s very affordable wine prices are worth a mention. Bottles range from $15 to $55, offering some great deals. Wozny, also the former owner of a local wine store, knows his vino. His maximum mark-up over Liquor Commission prices is $7, making a bottle within most diners’ grasp.
Service is fast, friendly and very competent. A mini-groceteria in the lobby is stocked with sauces, pestos, chutneys and pasta, among other specialty foods.
Good luck finding stomach space for dessert. A modest selection of gelatos, all by Eva’s Gelato, satisfied a sweet craving without busting a gut. Meanwhile, a large (11″) cinnamon-dusted, marshmallow, chocolate and graham wafer dessert pizza was more than two diners could face.
Santa Ana is open Mon-Thu 11 am-9 pm; Fri 11 am-10 pm and Sat 4 pm-10 pm.
1631-F St Mary’s Rd.