Zinc or swim: New Haven’s new pizzeria

New Haven just can’t get enough pizza. Or, at least, that’s what Kitchen Zinc (Artisan Pizza & Bar) is betting on.

Though hidden away in the alleyway next to its parent restaurant, the latest offering from Zinc is not something to be missed. The interior can feel cramped, but the eating space sprawls into a patio area that really tries to put you in the outdoors, with installed evergreens and wooden stakes.

The minimalist yet rugged décor is endearing. Water is served in a chilled sealed bottle. The wooden tables exude warmth; the metal lining introduces modern flair. It screams: This is old, but also new.

Kitchen Zinc does not resist change. Since its opening a few months ago, the eatery’s menu now allows you to build your pizza from scratch, and it has changed a few of the pre-made pizzas.

Pizzas come in white and red varieties with ready-made topping combinations or make-your-own options. Before digging in, my friends and I ordered bruschetta ($5.95) as an appetizer. It was served with roasted radicchio, white beans, basil pesto and mozzarella pearls. The bruschetta was a little bit hot and a little bit cold, which sums up my feelings for it. The white beans mellowed the kick I was expecting. The bread could have used some more crunch. But the small balls of mozzarella pearls were a great touch. If only I could have tasted the promised radicchio.

We ordered smoked chicken white pizza ($13.95), also topped with artichoke, green olives, fontina and mozzarella. The olives soured the pizza and the smoked chicken tasted like ham. In hindsight, we should have probably ordered the white shrimp pizza (reminiscent of Pepe’s white clam), served with parsley-caper pesto and goat cheese. Or even the broccoli rabe, served with the basics (garlic, ricotta salata, mozzarella and pepper flakes).

My favorite Kitchen Zinc pizza is definitely the red vegetable ($13.95). This is my third time ordering it and I will probably order it at all future meals there. Topped with eggplant, fire-roasted red peppers, basil pesto and Harpersfield Tilsit beer-washed cheese, this pizza will leave all meat-eaters envious of their vegetarian friends. The tender eggplant adds meatiness and is far from bitter.

We even ventured into the realm of make-your-own, which can get expensive if you aren’t careful. The base price is $8.95, with each topping (including cheeses) priced at $1.95. My friend chose black pepper shrimp, broccoli rabe, Portobello mushroom and salmon gravlax (raw salmon cured in salt and sugar and seasoned with spices). The opportunity to create is marvelous, but it may be wise to leave that to the chefs. The cooks are creative enough to handle any combo, but cold salmon gravlax just didn’t gel with warm black pepper shrimp, which is tastier on its own. Other great topping options include La Quercia pancetta, applewood smoked bacon, hot cherry peppers, caramelized onion, goat cheese and bambino cheese. Combine at your own risk.

Next time you crave some pizza, Kitchen Zinc is worth a try (they even have a to-go pocket menu!).

The pizzas at Kitchen Zinc are somewhat small — designed for two people or one hungry hippo — and thus probably more expensive than Pepe’s or Sally’s pies. But all the ingredients are sourced from responsible and earth-friendly growers and food producers. Patrons can also learn from Kitchen Zinc’s minimalist decor; you are better off ordering just pizza and skipping appetizers and dessert. Try not to be too crazy.

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