Ken's Artisan Pizza isn't the type of place you'd go on a first date. It's a little too bustling and a little too well-lit to provide the quiet intimacy you need to impress the pants off somebody. Ken's is more second or third date material: You've already slept together, now maybe you can finally relax, stop trying to impress each other, and enjoy yourselves.
Way back when, Ken Forkish began hosting a pizza night at Ken's Artisan Bakery on NW 21st. Pizza night soon became so popular that it called for a spin-off restaurant of its own, which brings us to Ken's Artisan Pizza. The high-ceilinged little restaurant boasts an open kitchen, a massive wood-burning pizza oven, and tables made of wood from an old rollercoaster. This relaxed setting is paired with a rigorous approach to quality, resulting in unpretentious menu items that approach perfection in their simplicity.
My boyfriend and I recently had our 408th date at Ken's Pizza, and boy, was it a good one. The joint is charming and welcoming, but what makes Ken's so date-perfect is that the menu is very shareable. A 12-inch pizza can easily serve two, especially when paired with an appetizer or a few dinner salads, making for an intimate dinner at a reasonable prize—or get two pizzas and save the leftovers for breakfast, because this stuff is just as good cold.
Ken's really is all about pizza: There's no pasta, no calzones, just a seven-pie pizza menu, bolstered by some salads and starters. The logic of this approach is sound: When the pizza is this good, why clutter up the menu? Sauce and cheese are used sparingly, highlighting the pie's perfect crust: crisp without being crackery, with a chewy, substantial edge. Toppings range from the classic Margherita to soppressata (salami) with mozzarella and basil. We tried the anchovy, and fennel sausage with roasted onions, which was well complemented by fresh basil and potent, spicy-sweet Calabrian chiles.
Though pizza is clearly the star of this show, there are some formidable supporting characters as well. The hand-tossed Caesar salad approached the Platonic ideal of Caesar salad-ness: seriously fresh leaves of romaine, hand tossed and topped with huge shavings of cheese. The mixed green salad, featuring roasted beets in a citrus vinaigrette, was perfectly serviceable, if somewhat overshadowed by the sheer glory of the Caesar.
The dessert menu is short, but it sparkles: The house-made pistachio gelato was an unexpected delight, distinguished by a coarser texture and nuttier flavor than the sweeter stuff found at other gelato joints in town, while the peach-marionberry crisp, topped with vanilla bean gelato, was a screamingly fresh take on an old classic.
The beer list is tiny, but top-notch, and wine is served as well. It's also worth noting that the service was excellent. We found our server to be attentive and encouraging, and the arrival of our appetizers and entrees was well timed.
As the BF and I strolled hand in hand from Ken's, our bellies full of deliciousness, it became clear that we had captured the elusive Perfect Date: casual and relaxed, yes, but infused with the subtle aphrodisiacs of quality, good taste, and of course, pizza.