Monday, July 16, 2012

No direction home, slice

HomeSlyce, 1741 Light St., Federal Hill

What constitutes a pizza? Let's venture into that swirling vortex of reflexivity and neurotic hand-wringing and arbitrary boundary-setting. Pizza can be on a bagel, while it cannot be on a Ritz ™ cracker. It can be inside a pita, but it cannot be inside a soft pretzel. How do we know these things? How do we sort our chaotic sensory impressions of the world into categories like “pizza” and “not-pizza” with relative consistency? Are these categories natural or constructed?

If you are game for this wild trip into the heart of the nature of reality, you should check out the new pizza place in Fed Hill. HomeSlyce is like a trendy hip contemporary pizza bar thing that is just slightly off the mark of being trendy and hip, which makes it quite tolerable as a place to hang out. They have a pool table. The interior is painted yellow and black, like a big friendly bumblebee clumsily ricocheting off your face. HomeSlyce offers a number of attractive specials that could make it worth your while if you are feeling ambivalent about trying something new: Mondays are “half price slyces,” which means that Pizza Club dined at a 50% discount after we reminded our server that it was “half price slyce” night and he recalculated our check.

So at HomeSlyce they make these things called “slyces.” Not pizzas, not calzones – a slyce is like a hybrid of the two, with folded-up edges and an open trough in the middle. Every time I write slyce with a “y” it makes me feel sad, so let's make it a proper noun and call them Slyces. A Slyce is like a pizza boat or canoe or kayak. This is a new thing under the sun (except that it comes from their parent restaurant, Cazbar, which serves Turkish pides which are basically the same thing, but with tasty Turkish food inside).


The Slyce, in general, has a lot of crustal surface area that is not within biting range of a topping: at each end is a knot of crust where the Slyce is sealed off, high-and-dry above any cheese or sauce. Even along the sides, the ratio of crust to topping skews towards the folded-over crust; if you are a crust-leaver-behinder, there will be a lot to leave behind. Of course, chain pizza joints solve the crust-leaving-behind problem by throwing in those cups of melted butter-flavored substance for you to dip the pizza ends in. We recommend a similar tactic for HomeSlyce: given the known crust/topping asymmetry, provide dipping sauce or something. We requested sauce and they gave us some marinara, but the situation demands a more inspired dipping option.

Probably chicken-pesto

The reason that I insist so vocally on the need for better dipping resources is a positive one: HomeSlyce crust was quite good, even when it was far from any topping, making us want to eat more. It was light and chewy, with browned edges and just enough crunch. So we were highly motivated to finish it.

Thanks to the Monday half-price special, we were able to sample most of the Slyces on the menu. A Slyce could feed two or three people, or one really hungry person – HomeSlyce also offers traditional pizzas in 10” and 16” sizes, which Pizza Club will evaluate at a later date.

HomeSlyce Classic - our #1 selection

The Margarita Slyce was a standard mozzarella-sauce-basil affair – those stuck with the end pieces observed that the crust was underdone, with some doughy areas where it got folded in on itself. A “Port the Bella” (?) Slyce comes with garlic sauce, mozzarella, roasted red peppers, spinach, portabella mushrooms and feta cheese. Some Pizza Club members wanted more oil on this pie, and felt that the mushrooms were not particularly fresh. A Chicken-Pesto Slyce, with “pesto sauce,” mozz, chicken breast, sun-dried tomatoes, peppers, onions, olives, and feta, was underwhelming. The sauce did not taste like pesto. The “Pop-Pie,” with garlic sauce, onions, spinach, and goat and gorgonzola cheeses was a favorite with some club members for its intense garlicky punch and good flavor balance.

Crusty remnants

The hands-down favorite, however, was the HomeSlyce classic, decked out with goat cheese, walnuts, eggplant, spinach, caramelized onions, roasted peppers and “HomeSlyce sauce.” We got two of them and they were the first to vanish. We theorized that, because of its lineage as a Cazbar-affiliated project, HomeSlyce might have particularly strong eggplant chops, and we recommend getting their pies with eggplant.

Solution to crustal excess

This is definitely a new venue – the staff seemed a bit addled and the first thing our waitress did was spill water down Jen's back (for which she apologized profusely). In a way, this pizza is “fancy but not” - an everyman pizza in a fancy package. The different pies that we sampled all tasted somewhat similar – at least, the experience of eating them was similar, with the abundant crust overwhelming the other elements and the different sauces not very differentiated. As mentioned above, there is a psychological element to the Slyce experience in which one's bedrock assumptions about pizza are challenged, so perhaps the concept overshadowed the execution. We liked what we ate, but upon analysis it seems to be your typical upscale bar pizza – you would eat it if you were there anyway for a drink, but it wouldn't merit a special trip after the novelty of the first encounter wore off.

Pizza Club rejoiceth

It should also be noted that Dan attempted to order a plain cheese Slyce as a baseline indicator. This order was lost, caught in some ethereal twilight dimension of Federal Hill, rediscovered, and became the last pie to come out of the kitchen. Dan loved this pizza at first bite. It was described as “very gooey, messy,” and also possibly the best Slyce of the evening. This seal of approval suggests that HomeSlyce has its basics figured out. They just have to rise to the challenge of making this new pizza concept into a satisfying reality.


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