I'll have to admit that my expectations weren't exactly high when I was invited to the Wine Barn in Winter Park to sample its line of pizzas. I mean, come on: It's called the Wine Barn, for crying out loud, and its main purpose is to sell wines in a somewhat warehousey sort of setting. The food has to be just a sideline, a distraction, a hobby. We're probably talking prefab Boboli-type dough with some slathered sauce and canned toppings, right?
No, not right. The pizzas here are excellent, some of the best I've had in Central Florida. And my reaction is not because of lowered expectations or, as a way of giving full disclosure, a placation to a business that advertises on SJO. These are some darned fine pies.
They're rustic pizzas that immediately brought to mind the sort that are served at Prato. There are two keys to their success. First is the flour, which is Caputo brand, imported from Naples (not the one in Florida) and is a 00, the finest grind (ratings are 1, 0 and 00). The pizza dough is made from scratch and allowed to rest for 24 hours before it is hand-stretched when the pizza is ordered.
The other key is the oven. Instead of retrofitting the retail space with a kitchen, owner Andres Montoya has essentially set up a more temporary kitchen behind the building — think the sort of setup you'd find at a food fair in the park. There he has an actual wood-burning oven capable of the desired 800-degree temps that allow a pie to cook in about 90 seconds.
A third key, and not an insignificant one, is a staff who know how to use keys one and two. Here the pizzaioli are Melina Salazar and Marcus Adam, and they do a terrific job.
I sampled several, and I liked them all, but my favorite was the Piemonte, which had jamon Iberico, buttered mushrooms, asiago cheese and two farmer's eggs, sunny side up, sitting atop just waiting to be pierced to release their ooze. The crusts here are thin but with a bit of chew, not crackerlike, and the high heat gives bits of black spots on the crust that add a charred note.
It isn't only pizzas that come out of the oven. The Wine Barn offered some chicken wings, a nice alternative to the deep-fried variety, seasoned with garlic and rosemary and a cayenne butter rub, topped with crisped onions.
There's also something called Bacon Love Bread, which is baguette made with the same dough as the pizza and stuffed with wood-smoked pork belly and asiago cheese. Yes, it's just as tasty as it sounds. Or you might choose the charcuterie board, which could include jamon Iberico, dry-aged pinocchiona salame, aged Gouda, artisan Parmesan, olives and cornichons.
And by the way, the most expensive item on the menu is a $20 pizza that includes an entire Maine lobster, so we're also talking reasonableness.
You can dine in the Barn, as it were, at one of the, um, rustic wood tables (think workbench), and you can choose a wine from the surrounding shelves to enjoy with your meal with no corkage fee. Food is also available for delivery through a partnership with Doorstep Delivery.
The Wine Barn is at 959 W. Fairbanks Ave., Winter Park (lots of parking in the back, next to the kitchen). Pizza is available for dinner Tuesday through Saturday and lunch on Saturdays. The phone number is 407-599-9463.