Credit: Ingrid Bostrom

Back in 2011, when chef Cindy Black opened The Blue Owl as a late-night pop-up inside Zen Yai on State Street, she’d joke, “Some nights, I’m Don Rickles with a vagina and a wok.” Eleven years later, upon opening St. Bibiana on West Ortega Street, she’s more like Louie Anderson with a vagina and a pizza oven.

You could say she’s mellowed, or maybe it’s just that the restaurant biz is very different when you’re 42 as opposed to 30. “Sometimes I don’t have the energy to give the customers hell even if they deserve it,” Black admits. “The fun banter at 30 I loved, and I miss the Blue Owl regulars and the fun chaos, but I don’t miss getting inebriated customers until four in the morning.”

That’s one reason St. Bibiana closes at a reasonable hour, and soon, Black hopes, will be open for lunch. (Yes, she’s also suffering from the inability to hire that everyone is everywhere.)

Israel Lopez, Liz North, Ayden Izcan, Cindy Black | Credit: Ingrid Bostrom

Beyond the shift in hours and customers, Black also traded in her beloved Southeast Asian flavor palate — I still salivate at the memory of her scrumptious red curry shrimp roll, and I haven’t had one in years — to join Santa Barbara’s pizza renaissance. “I like baking; I like working with dough,” she said. “I want to do something over and over and get good at it.” She bought a pizza oven a few years back with her friend Dave Potter, owner of Municipal and Potek wines, and practiced her technique via pop-ups throughout the pandemic. 

Located inside the former Little Kitchen spot next door to the Wildcat Lounge, St. Bibiana features “probably the smallest pizza oven in town,” said Black. “I’m a little nervous for the future.” Her deck oven only fits four pies at a time and maxes out at 650°, which is low compared to some wood-fired stoves in town. So she just leaves her pizzas in a bit longer to get the crispy crust she prefers.

Black starts with a sourdough starter, organic flour, and regionally grown organic produce whenever possible. An early favorite has been a lemon mushroom pie that is everything rich, earthy, and good: beurre blanc, mozzarella, roasted mushrooms, parsley, olive oil, lemon zest, chili flakes, and a sprinkle of Maldon sea salt. 

Sign up to get Matt Kettmann’s Full Belly Files, which serves up multiple courses of food & drink coverage every Friday, going off-menu from our regularly published content to deliver tasty nuggets of restaurant, recipe, and refreshment wisdom to your inbox

While she does offer pepperoni and sausage pies, she’s trying to use less meat overall. That’s where her salads come in, showcasing her ability to nail flavors that are sure to please. Take a recent roasted cauliflower liberally tossed with piquant baby arugula, lathered in an herbed Greek yogurt for some creaminess, and then given crunch from roasted hazelnuts. For now, the menu remains small, just to keep things manageable. “I opened this like I opened the Blue Owl, without a lot of money,” she explained. “So I have to go slow. I can’t take big chances.” 

It’s been four years since Black sold The Blue Owl, after having moved it to a brick-and-mortar spot on West Canon Perdido Street. Although she’s done some consulting, pop-ups, and practiced on that oven with Potter, it took an offer from Bob Stout, owner of the Wildcat and co-owner of the former Little Kitchen, to lure her back into the restaurant game. 

“I’m a little monkey — I have to do things with my hands,” she said. “My partner was sick of my trashing our kitchen. I learned to cook as a child, so I just make a big mess. That’s a lot of fun for me.”

A friend suggested the name St. Bibiana, and Black found it fitting upon discovering that Bibiana is supposedly the patron saint of hangovers and the mentally ill. “It seemed perfect for next to the Wildcat, and all the old Blue Owl customers loved it,” she confirmed. The nifty line drawing logo is courtesy of Black’s friend Stacey Millett from the Ventura design firm Willhouse, who was the same source for her old Blue Owl logo.

Like every other restaurant owner, Black is trying to figure out the food scene in a post(?)-pandemic world. “People want to order delivery now,” she explained. “Most people want to pick up food and go home. And I like it.” Customers hankering for a to-go pie can get on DoorDash or Restaurant Connection, order directly from the restaurant’s website, or, of all things, just call on the phone — as Black put it, “Just like an old-school pizzeria.”

17 W. Ortega St.; (805) 679-9511; 

Support the Santa Barbara Independent through a long-term or a single contribution.


Please note this login is to submit events or press releases. Use this page here to login for your Independent subscription

Not a member? Sign up here.