You can tell even before entering Bettina in Santa Barbara (there is no sign) that you are about to experience a restaurant unlike any other in town: you pass a substantial rack of carefully manicured oak logs. They are patiently waiting to be thrown into Bettina’s wood-burning oven where they will bake some of the tastiest pizzas, foccacias, and breads you will encounter in this city.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Bettina’s owners, Rachel Greenspan and Brendan Smith, first bonded over their love of carbohydrates while he was working as the head baker at Roberta’s Pizzeria in Brooklyn. When Brendan was offered a new job in California only a few months after they first met, it seemed only natural that Rachel would join him. Today, the duo is on a mission to bring the finest pizza and naturally leavened breads to Santa Barbara County. They spend their days nerding out at farmers markets and hand-pulling mozzarella cheese. Although they’re obsessed with ingredients, you don’t need to know the difference between pecorino and parmesan to enjoy Bettina’s food-—they’re devoted to honest, everyday cooking that is approachable and easy to love.
The two ultimately married and gave birth to Bettina in the fashionable Montecito Country Mart. It is a cozy neighborhood restaurant serving naturally-leavened, Neapolitan-style pizza made with seasonal California ingredients. Whether you’re celebrating a special occasion or just grabbing a spritz at the bar, you can expect simplicity, community, and hospitality that makes every guest feel at home.
We started our Bettina experience with a few aperitivi: a white Negroni made with Bordiga vermouth bianco, prosecco and Suze bitters and gin refreshed us. Then a cocktail called an Italicus of Plymouth gin, bergamo liqueur and soda put us in the proper mood for food. Warm marinated olives arrived in a pool of garlic and rosemary. Fried eggplant with harissa sauce and parmesan was crunchy. Cacio e pepe arancini with Calabrian chile, delicate fried rice balls made with white wine risotto had a gooey, tasty mozzarella center.
Bring on the pizzas!
This was all a prelude to Bettina’s excellent pizzas, made with top notch organic flour fermented for a minimum of 48 hours. There are 13 pizzas in all on the menu, from the simple margherita to more elaborate combinations like chanterelle-topped, pistachio pesto, roasted cauliflower and carbonara. The pepperoni pizza with chili oil and local Hollister Ranch honey and the sunchoke pie with aged cheddar, escarole, and torpedo onions is a must. Add ons are endless: choose anchovies, pancetta, egg, broccolini, pepperoni, mushrooms and more. These pizzas are special–Brendan knows what he is doing behind the oven: they come puffy, piping hot, blistered to a glorious freckle.
We did not stop there. We ordered a memorable meatball sandwich on house foccacia, a happy marriage of mozzarella and harissa tomato sauce and a satisfying Porchetta sandwich with house ricotta, salsa verde, pickled onion and arugula. A refreshing baby gem salad with ranch dressing, pickled onion and goat cheddar rounded out the meal with glasses of vino blanco for all. For a small restaurant, Bettina has an impressive wine list with 18 whites and over 20 reds, all imported plus a roses, sparklers and, of course, cocktails.
Bettina serves lunch and dinner (virtually the same menu) and this menu can change according to what’s available and the chef’s whims. But whether you sit at a table and enjoy service by a cheery young staff or grab a seat at the bar for a spritz and some wood-fired bread with house-cultured butter, anchovies and burrata, this is a gem of a restaurant to be savored, dedicated to quality, reasonably priced and great fun. Work off the calories by strolling around the Mart to shop at such stores as Poppy, Toy Crazy, James Perce and Rori’s Ice Cream.
Bettina, in the Montecito Country Mart, 1014 Coast Village Rd, Santa Barbara, open daily 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m. (805) 770-2383 Reservations: bettinapizzeria.com Order: bettinapizzeria.com