I walked in to the new Flying Banzini just as Scarlett O’Hara was Never Going to be Hungry Again. The beet salad and panini (with Caesar salad side) arrived as Ginger and Fred were waltzing into the sunset, and The S.S.Minnow was hitting its usual patch of rough seas when the pizza and soup showed up.
Part of the charm/schtick of this place is the endless loop of projections from old film and television shows, much of it with an aviation theme, that plays out on the far wall.
The Flying Banzini is a sandwich/pizza/cheesecake place owned by Saskatoon native Dave Scharf, and newly opened in the space vacated by The Collected Works bookstore. It actually reminds me a bit of The Works Burger joint, during its early days. A themed food place with a side of entertainment — lots to look at, lots to read, sandwiches and pizza delivered with a Lululemonish message to “Learn, Laugh, Love, Smile, Cry, and Dream… Share the Passion of Life’s Grand Adventure.”
Well, yes, of course. All good, understood, but how’s the beet salad?
I’d say it’s very early days for this place and it may well come together in the fullness of time. Right now, the formula of lining up, reading the long wall board menu and placing your order at the counter is tricky. Eventually, as people get to know this place, they’ll likely waltz right up and say “I’ll have the Steve McQueen please.” But for now, you read it all because you must (they had run out of printed menus, I was told), and think it all through, and feel the pressure of making a decision as more folk queue up behind you.
But once placed, you are handed a character card (Kevin Spacey, Winnie the Pooh…) by way of identifying your table, and invited to take a seat. Food is then delivered by a large staff of very nice kids. Water is poured constantly. Thank you. Dishes arrive as the open kitchen produces them, so you may well have your porchetta sandwich before your date gets his pizza. But we had a beet salad to start and a few savoury cheesecakes, and warm food came when it came
It was a generous portion, but the beets tasted more over-boiled than oven-roasted, were underseasoned and spread on a bed of ho-hum arugula with globs of goat cheese and slivered almonds. It was fine enough, but a long way from memorable.
The porchetta has good flavour and came tucked into a soft bun. It needed the roasted garlic apple sauce to liven it and moisten it and I prefer my sandwiches with the crunch of something green. After a few bites of all-soft, you get bored. It came with a pesto vegetable soup, clearly with homemade broth, but too salty, even for a girl who loves her salt. Ditto for the potato wedges — far too salty.
The panini — with proscuitto, arugula, red onion, basil, fig tapenade, bocconcini and oven dried tomatoes — was pretty tasty, though the sweet fig jam bullied a bit, and the arugula was grilled within, which I recognize is easier, but warm, limp arugula has never added much to a sandwich.
The pizza (The Joker) arrived browned and burbly, the crust pleasingly chewy around the edges, though underdone in the middle. Toppings were perfectly pleasant but didn’t send us flying anywhere.
Elvis was shaking all over as I downed a few of the “Cheesecakes with Altitude,” the pretty creations of pastry chef Raelene Harder. The sea salt caramel chocolate was the best of the bunch. We had two to be certain.
I’m looking forward to returning in a month or two, when The Flying Banzini’s had a chance to come down to earth.
Cost: porchetta sandwich/panini, $7.95; pizza $10.95-$11.95; mini cheesecakes, $2 each.
Open: Daily, 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m.
The Flying Banzini, 1242 Wellington St. W., 613-728-4545.