The popularity of pizza has never waned. Two-for-one, by-the-slice, deep dish, Chicago-style and stuffed crusts are just some of the angles to lure the carb-craving consumer.
But the purists among us prefer to dial it back, stepping away from the fill-er-up mentality to create a better pie; one that honors its Italian roots with thoughtful attention to quality ingredients and technique, made with enthusiasm, a zest for life and the pursuit of good taste.
This type of gusto drives the pizza and then some at Gusto Ferrari.
Opened last December by husband and wife team Flaminio and Roberta Ferrari, the 40-seat restaurant, set on one side of the Penticton Racquet and Fitness Club, offers 15 styles of pies, from the rusticly simple marinara of tomato, garlic, oregano and olive oil to the multi-ingredient Partenopia – a tribute to Naples – with housemade sausage, mushroom, burrata, mozzarella and rapini.
The backbone to each is a 48-hour fermented dough made from Italian 00 flour, known for its lower gluten content, and a tomato sauce made from ripe, sweet San Marzano tomatoes. The result is a tender crust with good chew and char that holds ingredients and delivers on flavour.
The couple, new residents of Penticton, moved with their two daughters to Vancouver seven years ago from the northern Italian town of Brescia, close to Milan.
Their family business, Forni Ferrari, custom makes pizza ovens, right down to the handmade bricks, and is their stock-in-trade. Their creations grace many restaurants in B.C. and the U.S., including one at nearby Desert Hills Winery, and the oven at Gusto Ferrari that fires pies at a searing 600 F. Selling and making ovens has taken a back seat for the time being while the restaurant gets established.
Once they moved here, they thought the best way to meet people would be to open a restaurant. And although Flaminio was never a cook he always taught his oven customers how to make pizza, and obviously has an affinity with dough. You can watch the pizzas being made at the counter and have a chat. And Roberta, with her experience running a café bar in Italy, including both front and back of house, works the tables while building a menu beyond pizza – with regional specialties popping up along the way.
Case in point: during one lunch visit, tripe soup was on offer. I’ve rarely seen that offered in Vancouver let alone Penticton. I applaud that kind of brave move. I certainly ordered it and it was delicious, and apparently they sold out that day!
They have also built a steady fan base since opening and made fast friends. For example, naming a pizza for local celeb Carl Meadows, health services administrator at the PRH. Dubbed the Snakebite, it was a Meadows-Ferrari collaboration, a combination of spicy salami, capicollo, onion and feta, and named for the film festival Meadows was involved with. It had become Gusto Ferrari’s best-selling pie.
Recently the Ferraris added another artisan product to their skill set – a pasta machine. Egg-based pasta, seven styles in total, are made using bronze dies that give the pasta a slight tooth for the sauce to adhere to. You can dig in to four pasta dishes on the menu’s roster including the classic Amatriciana, gorgonzola with walnuts and cream, and a hearty Bolognese.
Specials include the rustic alio, olio y peperoncino (garlic, olive oil and chilies), one of my all-time favourite preparations, and one I recently enjoyed at Gusto with freshly made spaghetti noodles. Portions are hearty and value driven for such heartfelt and thoughtful cooking. (Fresh pasta is also available for purchase. Just call ahead.)
Dessert serves up the expected such as tiramisu or an affogato of vanilla gelato in a recharging espresso. Other beverages include Italian sodas, Cannery brews on tap, Italian Peroni by the bottle, and a tidy wine list – both Italian and local – including Ruby Blues and newcomer Lighting Rod out of Summerland.
Patio seating in the summer invites for al fresco dining, and the big pots of herbs and cherry tomatoes give it a cozy, homey feel. Gusto Ferrari is a place you can call home.
With fork and pen in hand, and a passion for culinary adventure, Shelora Sheldan, writer, cook and curious traveller, goes in search of the delectable. This column runs every other Tuesday in The Herald.