17008 Kercheval Ave., Grosse Pointe
Personal pizzas: $6-$9
I'm not noble enough to patronize a place just because it's green. Happily, Green Zone Pizza, open since last month in Grosse Pointe, is both planet-friendly and palate-friendly.
Prius-driving owner Markus Wierderkehr has a background in recycling, and his countertop, where patrons place their orders, is made from recycled glass bottles and his floors from recycled tiles. More important over the green long run, he's seeking LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification, aiming to be "the greenest restaurant in Michigan."
Wierderkehr shuns an oven that burns wood or coal — "probably the worst thing you can do" — and instead employs a "pizza oven on steroids" whose nature he won't reveal. It produces a pie in 3.5 minutes without using much energy, he claims.
Wierderkehr figures he can afford to pay more for organic ingredients by saving on energy, lighting up the whole restaurant with just 500 watts' worth of LED lights. He uses organic mozzarella, organic shrimp from an Okemos farmer, organic flour from Avalon and organic cherry juice in his barbecue sauce.
The results are tasty, improving over the course of my two visits on the restaurant's 11th day and on its 30th.
Nine white-flour or whole-wheat pizza options (plus infinite build-your-owns) include some familiar titles: pepperoni, vegetarian, Greek, California, Hawaiian. But there's also a shrimp and a "cherry BBQ chicken" — that's the one with the cherry juice, and the most-ordered pizza thus far. A turkey sausage number is frankly named: "I Can't Believe It's Not Sausage."
This is not the place for those who value crust above all — there's not much edge on Wierderkehr's pizzas. I loved the California, with its sun-dried tomatoes, roasted garlic and spinach, and warmed up to the Greek, which tasted more of olives than anything else. The vegetarian was less memorable, despite a long list of toppings, and the tomato sauce on the mildly spicy sausage pizza tasted too much like canned.
A pound of cherry barbecued wings was excellent despite my misgivings — peppery, not too sweet. A spinach salad was better on my second visit, the leaves well-coated but not dripping, with plenty of bacon, roasted red peppers and a subtle roasted tomato vinaigrette. Other salads are Caesar, romaine with cherries, and arugula with roasted beets.
Three sandwiches are served on Avalon's organic hoagie rolls. A roasted shrimp po' boy with jalapeño and pineapple was delicious if smallish; even better was a set of three sliders featuring bacon, avocado and lime mayo. Other nonpizza items are honey-smoked salmon dip, veggie and turkey sandwiches, and some cookies that did not do Avalon proud.
One of the most arresting features of Green Zone is its wine dispenser, a serving system quite popular, Wierderkehr tells me, in Washington, D.C. Eight bottles are displayed, four on the cold side and four closer to room temperature. As each bottle is depleted by happy customers, the wine is kept fresh with argon gas, pumped into the bottle to blanket the surface and keep destructive oxygen away. So far, nothing out of the ordinary. But at Green Zone, you buy a gift card, put some money on it and insert it into the machine. Choose a taste for $2, or a half- or a full glass. Play with it, mix and match.
You can also order a glass the old-fashioned way, of course. I enjoyed completely a smooth California Malbec that our server said was popular, perhaps because it's the cheapest pour (besides the house wines), at $6. My friend ordered Cabernet and got the huge glassful one always hopes for but that would presumably be precluded by machine dispensation.
Green Zone's decor is simple but attractive, with ochre and pumpkin walls, bare wood tables and some tall stools, even a tall banquette. I'd prefer a metal fork myself, but I've costed out neither the relative expense nor the relative environmental impact of washing dishes vs. using plastic-look-alike cutlery. Here it's made from discarded sugarcane fibers that are biodegradable "in a commercial composter," as the tabletop signs instruct.
Where Green Zone falls down, at least in its early days, is on service, which seems well-meaning but inexperienced. It took a lot more than 3.5 minutes for our pizzas, orders were forgotten or brought in a strange sequence, and one night we received nothing to eat from but the serving trays. The service problems weren't near enough to ruin the evening but do need fixing.
Green Zone is open 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Friday-Saturday and 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Sunday. The entrance is around the corner on Notre Dame. Sandwiches and pizzas can be ordered gluten-free for an extra charge.
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