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Published September 4th 2016
Coastal culinary cool comes to Brisbane city
It's got a West Coast California vibe, but it's happily ensconced in downtown Brisbane. It offers pizza, burgers and pasta, but this is not your average pizza or burger bar. It's open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and you can also get your morning caffeine fix on the run. Santa Monica Pizza and Burger Bar — Brisbane city's newest restaurant in one of Brisbane city's newest buildings — is making a splash on the burgeoning city dining scene, and for all the right reasons.
Our weeknight visit to Santa Monica Pizza and Burger Bar was a real pleasure. It was a love at first sight experience that, like any good crush, improved with further acquaintance. From the outset we were impressed with the location (handily situated opposite Central Station), and the relaxed decor that thankfully referenced coastal, outdoorsy culture in a cool, rather than a kitschy way. I particularly liked the beach hut-shaped structures (complete with overhead heating) that framed the seating booths and timber tables and chairs, and the potted greenery that runs along the front, dividing the restaurant from the busy footpath.
From a design point of view the streetscape, complete with the timber and brick Santa Monica Express Coffee Bar, is subtle, but the party starts happening as you head further back; a bit like a mullet haircut, really, but in a good way. Here you are greeted first by a stunning, large-scale, curved street art mural, and then the bright lights, botanical print wall and lively kitchen and bar area. Glossy white subway tiles complete the picture
And the food? Santa Monica's menu is not huge, but there are plenty of delicious options covering the three most essential food groups: pizza, pasta and burgers, as well as salads if you're feeling more health conscious. Their signature burger (not surprisingly named the Santa Monica Burger) arrived for my daughter's enjoyment served on Santa Monica's own paper — a cute casual touch that is also a drip-catcher for the inevitable spills. It was a saliva-inducing picture comprising not one, but two, black Angus beef patties, American cheddar cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, pickled red onions, bacon chips, grilled pineapple and a special sauce. Her verdict? A juicy, jaw-straining delight.
My son's Pulled Pork Baguette was bursting at the seams with tender, slow-cooked and delectably smokey pulled pork, creamy but crunchy coleslaw, pickled red onions, dill pickle and extra smokey barbecue sauce, accompanied by excellent fries. This was another winner.
Comedy Relief and I opted for pasta selections. He went for the Beef Cheek Pappardelle (fresh pappardelle pasta with Aceto Balsamico beef cheeks, sun-dried tomatoes, red onions, mushrooms, pinenuts and Parmesan cheese) while I couldn't resist their gnocchi (pan-seared gnocchi with pulled pork and napolitano sauce, olives, spinach, capsicum, pesto and Parmesan cheese. Everything in my gnocchi was scrumptious, from the plump doughiness of the gnocchi themselves to the smokey pork, sweet capsicum, thick sauce and and tangy pesto. It was heaven on a cute enamel plate. Comedy Relief's pappardelle lived up to its visual promise and generous size with full-bodied flavours, enhanced by the crunchy pinenuts.
We also couldn't resist the Pulled Pork BBQ Fries as a side, not that we needed one. The allure of fries loaded with smokey pulled pork is a strong one for our family and we were not disappointed. These are fries the way fries should be; crunchy on the outside, soft on the inside and delightfully unpeeled. The pulled pork was a treat and the tangy mustard was a highlight. Some loaded fries disappoint with limp sogginess, but these remained crunchy to the last mouthful. Yes, I have to shamefully admit that we polished off every last one.
And then we came to dessert, by which time my daughter and I said a silent prayer of thanks to whoever invented elastic waistbands. Santa Monica offers three desserts: Warm Chocolate Brownie, Cannoli di Ricotta and their signature Santa Monica Banana Split. We opted to share them all and they were all very good. The brownie was dense and chocolatey moist with silky vanilla bean ice cream, and the crispy cannoli was enhanced by the tart, candied orange zest. Both these dishes were accompanied by some of the best strawberries I've eaten. The winner on points, however, was the banana split, proving that simple things done really well are often standouts. The perfect banana was accompanied by a trio of ice cream scoops (chocolate, vanilla and strawberry), my husband and son rating the strawberry ice cream as the best they've tasted.
The vibe and menu here are distinctly casual but there's nothing casual about the quality of the food. It's top notch. Santa Monica is a testament to the foodie philosophy that a simple menu executed well, good service, stylish decor, and exceptional locally-sourced fresh ingredients can give you a 5 star dining experience, without the 5 star price tag. Amen to that.