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Photograph by Stephen Laufer

A Piece of the Pie: The new Kianti's has opened on Pacific Avenue to serve up pizza and pasta downtown.

Filling the Void

The new Kianti's has arrived to fill downtown's pizza and pasta-bar needs. Manga!

By Jessica Neuman Beck

A few months ago, I was in the mood for lasagna, and my husband and I were lamenting the demise of Zoccoli's pasta house. We came to the conclusion that downtown Santa Cruz needed a midscale Italian restaurant. There was pizza, and there was upscale Italian, but there wasn't anything in between.

That is, until Kianti's Pizza and Pasta Bar opened up in the old Cat 'n' Canary building. With a friendly, open floor-plan and an affordable menu, Kianti's neatly filled the midscale Italian-food void.

Owners Kelly Kissee and Tracy Parks-Barber knew exactly what they were doing when they opened Kianti's.

"This has been our dream," says Tracy.

Natives of Yosemite but long-time Santa Cruz residents, Tracy and Kelly had previously taken over pizza parlor franchises that weren't doing well and turned them around.

"We thought we'd better start on a smaller scale, so that's why we did the pizza-parlor business first," Tracy says. "We took our knowledge from running that business for eight years, and also the knowledge we gained from working in full-service restaurants for about eight years before that, and we kind of combined the two. That's how we came up with Kianti's."

"We wanted to get out of franchises and do our own thing," Kelly agrees. "It's been great." She laughs, "I'm not getting any sleep at night, but it's great."

With the restaurant's bright, vibrant colors and exhibition-style kitchen, Kelly and Tracy tried to create a fun, comfortable atmosphere. "We try to cater to everyone," says Kelly. "It's a little bit modern, but still very Italian. You can sit at the pizza bar and watch everything being made right in front of you."

The most unique feature about Kianti's is that all the dishes can be served family style as well as in individual portions.

"I always go out with all my friends and I always want to try a little of everything," says Kelly. "It's a great way to try a couple of different pizzas, a couple of different pastas or appetizers. We had a party of 15 come in last week and they loved it. They ordered three family salads and three family pastas and it fed everyone."

In addition to standard pasta fare (including my favorite, lasagna) Kianti's features some more unusual choices, such as Gorgonzola Pizza.

"I like spicy food, so I like the Spicy Chicken Pizza," says Tracy. It's made with jalapeño, bacon, mushrooms and olives in a creamy garlic sauce. Kelly's favorite is the Kianti's Gourmet Pasta, with bacon, sun-dried tomatoes, artichoke hearts and pesto all tossed in roasted garlic cream sauce. "The Pesto Pizza's really good, too," she says. "And our meatball sandwich--it's hard to choose just one thing!"

The pastas and pizzas at Kianti's can be customized, too--customers can create their own combinations in addition to choosing from Kianti's pre-set menu items.

A restaurant like Kianti's Pizza and Pasta Bar was definitely something Santa Cruz was lacking.

"We're told that a lot," says Tracy. "Everyone is just loving it, and it's such an exciting feeling."

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From the January 21-28, 2004 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

Copyright © Metro Publishing Inc. Maintained by Boulevards New Media.

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