Some of New Haven’s most highly coveted pizzas aren’t where you might expect. After you’ve prowled Wooster Street for its rightfully famous pies, check out a former fur vault on Chapel Street, tucked behind renowned Zinc restaurant. It’s Zinc’s baby sister, Kitchen Zinc.
Chef Denise Appel and her co-owner Donna Curran opened Zinc in 1999 in the former Savitt Jewelers space. Zinc quickly became one of the city’s go-to destinations for locally sourced, farm-to-table food expertly crafted into a fine dining experience. “At Zinc, we call it a global influence of food but local product,” Appel says.
Curran and Appel had met in the ’90s at the Wadsworth Atheneum’s Museum Cafe. Appel, who had culinary training at Manchester Community College, worked her way up from waitress to executive sous chef. Curran was the events coordinator. Appel’s cuisine reflects the years spent at the side of her grandmother, who spent 40 years cooking for a priest. Katherine Crites cooked French-Canadian dishes, lots of white beans, bacon, French bread, that filters into the food at both Zinc and Kitchen Zinc. When Curran moved to New Haven she called Appel and suggested they start a restaurant together. And so, Zinc was born.
Zinc used much, but not all of the space at 964 Chapel Street. There remained the former fur vault at the back of the restaurant, a small, still unused space that also had a potential patio area adjacent. At the time, Zinc was relatively quiet in the summer, and Curran and Appel liked the idea of offering seasonal outdoor dining. But that was then, and now both Zinc and Kitchen Zinc are “jammin’ all year round,” says Appel.
Curran and Appel completely redid the space into Chow, a dim sum bar, which remained popular through its three year run until 2008. But the two women wanted something more closely associated with Zinc’s culinary style, but with a more casual atmosphere and faster service. Appel says, “[to] bring in all our local, and as much hands-on food that we do,” into a smaller, more informal space with food priced with the town’s large student population in mind.
“All the ingredients were here [at Zinc]” referring to the antibiotic-free, hormone-free meat. “We just had to come up with a concept, which was pizza because we felt New Haven is the pizza capital of the US.” Aware that the more traditional, red sauce-based pizza toppings were the norm in New Haven, they knew offering their own vision would be key. “We make all our own sauces. We finish lots of our pizzas with salad on top. We make our own salmon gravlax [from line-caught Scottish salmon] for a salmon gravlax pie with creme fraiche. People around here weren’t making those kinds of pies.”
Not in a pizza state of mind? “We also offer cicchetti, small plates. Italian tapas,” which are a particular favorite for those sitting at the bar, Appel says. “They’re the perfect size.” As if to demonstrate, a dinner patron managed to fit one in while working on essays and papers as she ate.
Local sourcing doesn’t just apply to the food. Kitchen Zinc’s full bar offers six draft beers from the tri-state area, and the offerings change every two to three weeks. There’s a gluten-free beer, as well as a gluten-free pizza.
Have a great idea for a pizza? Kitchen Zinc holds an annual “Make Your Own Pizza” contest on Facebook. The winner gets a gift certificate, a T-shirt, and best of all, the winning pizza is featured on the menu for a full year. This year’s winner is the popular Getting Figgy pizza.
Whether a customer has dreamed up the pizza or Appel has, it’s all a scrumptious dream at Kitchen Zinc.
Restaurant Website: http://kitchenzinc.com/kitchen-zinc
• The Detes: 966 Chapel St., New Haven. 203-772-3002. Monday through Thursday 5 p.m. – 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday 5 p.m. – 12 a.m., closed Sunday.
• Price Range: Salads/meats/cheeses $5.95-12.95, cicchetti (small plates) $3.95-6.50, pizzas $12.95-14.95.
• Style of Food: Contemporary pizza.
• Favorite dishes: Pizzas: portobello mushroom, sausage, fig. Cicchetti: white bean salad, spicy salami with Liuzzi’s ricotta
• Vegetarian/gluten-free: Yes, both pizza and beer.
• Drinks: Full bar, plus regional beers on tap, changing at least once a month.
• Take out: yes
• Outdoor seating: yes