Milpas on the Move by Sharon Byrne, featured in the Santa Barbara Sentinel
If you’re looking to try some authentic Italian pizza with terrific ingredients, stop in and see Sal. Across from the iconic cow on Milpas, Sal’s is celebrating 10 years in business. “It’s been a roller coaster at times, but you have to roll with the changes,” Sal grins. As the only Italian eatery on Milpas’ Eat Street, he is sitting quite comfortably in his own niche.
Sal arrived in Santa Barbara 28 years ago from Mexico. He’s a Salvador, but acts more like a Salvatore. Various cooking jobs brought him into contact with an Italian chef in Montecito, where Sal discovered a love of Italian food, and found his inner genius. Mexican guy becomes American and cooks Italian – a truly American story.
One of the lures of Sal’s is the array of fresh ingredients at the disposal of the modern pizza constructionist: fresh basil, roasted red pepper, eggplant, artichoke hearts, and gorgonzola, to name a few. Crusts are thin, the Italian way. “Thick crusts tend to bland out the pizza,” says Sal. “You want to taste the full flavor of the pizza, so keep it thin.”
For those that have spent time in the Northeastern US, the Pizza Bianca will be a welcome treat. Known as White Pizza from Boston to New Jersey, it’s made with Alfredo sauce. Sal’s Alfredo recipe was recently featured in Pizza Today, a pizza industry magazine.
An Italian exchange student came in with a Swede once. Sal sees quite a bit of the international student traffic. The Swede asked the Italian, ‘what are you doing? You’re from Italy! Why eat here?’ The Italian said wistfully, “I am far from home. I just want to taste something like it.” He told Sal afterward that it was the best Italian pizza he’d had in Santa Barbara, and was quite close to what he ate in his small Italian hometown. Sal also sees a lot of English tourists (!). Apparently they tell each other where to go and what to eat when visiting Santa Barbara, and Sal’s is clearly on their hot list.
Popular dishes may raise some eyebrows, like the Cajun Chicken Fettuccini. Who doesn’t like a little Nawlin’s in your Italian, and more of that unique American penchant for mixing it all up in one big melting pot?
Sal has a reputation for being one of the nicest guys on Milpas. He’s long been involved in our community activities, and iss a strong supporter of efforts to revitalize the area. Like most of the Milpas merchants, he loves kids. Munching on one of his fabulous pies one day, I asked him about it. He’s got three wonderful kids and a wife helping in the business – it’s a true family enterprise. But why step up so much for the neighborhood?
He smiled as his eyes twinkled. “We have nothing to lose, and everything to gain in coming together as a community. How could I resist?”