Fired and Pumped 

Food Review: Short Pump's Tazza Kitchen raises the standard of suburban dining.

click to enlarge Bartender Lauren Spain serves the spicy sausage and black pepper honey pizza at Tazza Kitchen, where rustic, wood-fired dishes highlight the menu.

Scott Elmquist

Bartender Lauren Spain serves the spicy sausage and black pepper honey pizza at Tazza Kitchen, where rustic, wood-fired dishes highlight the menu.

Barring a handful of good local spots, Short Pump is known mostly for chain restaurants. But Tazza Kitchen is doing a bang-up job of trying to change that.

The first thing you notice is the grayish-tiled, wood-burning oven. The second is the beautifully appointed fireplace. Tazza Kitchen looks good, real good. An impressive bar spans the length of the restaurant and connects to an open kitchen — a little inconvenient for the expediter on a busy Saturday, but sexy nonetheless. An enclosed patio is lined with ceiling heaters to allow for simulated outdoor dining during the colder months.

The menu is heavy on small plates and pizza, perhaps to encourage sharing, and makes good use of the behemoth of an oven. Brick-oven cauliflower ($5) has a lovely crunch and char. A surprising, minty aftertaste is interesting and peculiar when combined with grainy cheese. Halved and roasted Brussels sprouts ($5) are on the sweeter side because of a heavy coating of maple vinaigrette. Spartan chunks of bacon add depth while the tiny pieces of egg white are superfluous. The red pepper hummus ($7.50) is assertive. Heavy on red pepper and light on chickpeas, the hummus is oddly served with even more peppers for dipping, warm brick-oven bread and several pieces of zucchini. Fingerling potatoes ($5.50) are slightly smashed and attractively served with a seared lemon half. Spicy from the first bite because of an aggressive jalapeño sauce, they're a master class of salt and acid balance.

Pizzas are simple and straightforward. A margherita ($9.50) arrives as expected — thin, crispy and with a bright kick of tomato sauce and basil. Oyster and maitake mushrooms ($13) generously top the same dough for a hearty match to fresh mozzarella. But some disappointments with the main dishes include unbearably greasy braised pork tacos ($9.50). The accompanying side of cranberry beans lacks seasoning. Shrimp and crispy polenta ($14.50) is lovely on the plate, but undercooked leeks and cherry tomatoes overwhelm the four overcooked shrimp and well-browned polenta.

Service shows promise and has improved since my early visits. The menu is explained in intuitive and amazing detail, erasing from memory any previous hiccups. The wine list is interesting and ballsy, showcasing stunners such as an '07 Uruguayan Carrau Amat tannat, a beast of a wine, and a Spanish godello, wacky and bold. Tazza's website shows local farms and sourcing along with plans in the works for a second location in Raleigh, N.C. From gauging the response of Short Pump and its surrounding population, it appears that the idea of a local hot spot in between the familiar names of chains is working. S

Tazza Kitchen
3332 Pump Road
716- 6448
Monday-Tuesday 4-10 p.m. Wednesday-Friday 4-11 p.m. Saturday 10:30 a.m.-11 p.m. Sunday 10:30 a.m.-9 p.m.

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