I ’ll admit it: when Kitchen Zinc first opened, I was skeptical. New Haven seemed on the verge of pizza saturation, so it was with much grumbling about a missed opportunity to do something different in this pizza town that I let my friends drag me along one night. A taste later, and my mouth was shut—mostly to enjoy the explosion of flavors as I wondered, Could this be pizza?
The toppings converted me. They elevate Kitchen Zinc’s pizzas to ‘artisanal’ status, which is how co-owner Donna Curran and chef Denise Appel describe the pies. Kitchen Zinc uses the same guiding ethos and local focus as the flagship. “We were already sourcing all this fabulous food for Zinc,” says Curran, “and we thought, how can we cross-utilize it and represent it in a more casual atmosphere?” All the regional cheeses, local vegetables, and hormone- and antiobiotic-free beef, veal and chicken used at Zinc have been re-imagined as pizza combinations. “We like taking classics and twisting them around a bit, making them new again,” says Appel.
The BLT white pie for example starts with applewood smoked bacon, blue and mozzarella cheese, tomatoes, and then covered with leaves of fresh, lightly tossed watercress for a slightly salad feel that’s become a trademark for many of their pizzas.
Appel makes their sausage, grinding it in house from all organic Berkshire pork, then serves it loose, no links or casings necessary, on red sausage pie with hot cherry peppers, broccoli rabe and mozzarella. It’s one of the best sellers along with the Portobello white pie, which features thin-sliced, oven-roasted Portobello caps marinated in olive oil, balsamic vinaigrette and fresh thyme, along with caramelized onions, fontina cheese and arugula salad.
One of Appel’s personal favorites is the salmon gravlax. She starts with a base of lemon crème fraiche, adding the house- made cured salmon, capers, red onion and arugula salad. “It’s like eating lox and cream cheese, but on pizza dough!” says Appel.
The dough is made fresh each evening, using a starter, leftover dough used from the last batch already packed with yeast to jumpstart the rising process. Kitchen Zinc’s starter was inherited from a good friend in San Francisco, shipped across country. Of course it’s changed a bit over time, some of the it being used daily and bits of last night’s dough being continually added, but it’s essentially the same batch going 22 years strong now. It’s a living thing and lends the crust a floury, yeasty, milky, earthy flavor, so dear to Curran and Appel that they named it Sylvia. KZ also offers gluten-free pizza dough from Still Riding Pizza in Bridgeport, delivered fresh overnight.
Cheese comes from the tri-state area, such as the Tilset beer washed cheese from Ommegang in Cooperstown, NY, and the goat cheese from Westfield Farms, MA. The mozzarella is about as local as it can get, from Liuzzi Cheese on State Street in North Haven. Pizzas come in one size, slightly medium, about eight slices to a pie, each cooked in the Marsal and Sons brick oven, which Appel selected after visiting three different vendors across the state.
Beyond the menu, improvisation is not only encouraged but invited with an annual pizza contest. Held in winter, contestants submit pizza recipes on Facebook, then Curran and Appel pick the top five and rotate through them on the Kitchen Zinc menus to give customers a chance to try them and vote online. The creator of the pie with the most votes wins a $250 pizza party and their pizza on the menu for a year, along with naming rights. The current winner, “Getting Figgy With It,” features roasted figs, sliced speck, goat cheese, caramelized onions, balsamic reduction, and—clearly a Kitchen Zinc staple—arugula.
One of the best spots at Kitchen Zinc is at the bar during happy hour, Monday to Thursday 5 to 7 p.m. There you can indulge in $2 Cicchetti, snacks typically served in the bars of Venice, Italy. It’s a small price to pay for tastes of the spicy salami with Liuzzi’s fresh ricotta, the white bean salad, or the sweet Peppadew peppers with blue cheese crumble.
Kitchen Zinc prides itself on the regional beer selection, such as Ten Penny Ale from East Hartford, Rock Art from Morrisville, VT, and Berkshire Brewing from Great Barrington, MA—quality craft brews chosen to complement the food menu. “We’re sticklers for food-friendly wines and beers,” Curran says. “Basically, it’s what we’d want to see when we go out.”
966 Chapel Street, New Haven (map)
Mon-Thurs 5-11pm, Fri-Sat 5pm-12am
Written by Jane Rushmore. Photographed by Peter Koll.