November 10, 2010

Chicago’s New Coal Oven Pizza Champion

November 10, 2010 Slyce: Chicago's New Coal Oven Pizza Champion | Posted by Daniel Zemans Serious Eats Chicago contributor Daniel Zemans checks in with another piece of intel on the Windy City pizza scene. —The Mgmt. A little over a month ago, I got an email from a concerned Slice reader named Tyler S. to encourage me to check out a brand new place called Slyce Coal Fired Pizza Company in Wauconda, a small town 45 miles away from downtown Chicago. Tyler wrote because he was excited about the pizza but concerned about its future:

"Honestly, I am quite worried it could leave me as unexpectedly as it arrived. In the city, these types of places stand a fighter's chance, but in the far suburbs, I think much of the passion put into these disc-shaped delights is lost on the local audience."

I prefer to let places work out kinks so I didn't head out there right away. I figured early customers and reviewers would point out any flaws and the restaurant could adjust. I have no idea if this place started on top of its game, or if there are particularly insightful customers in Wauconda, but this place is putting out some seriously excellent pizzas. I'm a fan of Coalfire (reviewed here) and Castel Gandolfo (reviewed here), but based on my first experience at Slyce, there is a new coal oven champion in town. Slyce is a creation of the team behind Lindy's Landing, another Wauconda restaurant, but the pizza passion flows from General Manager Gary Bougie. Bougie began his pizza career at 14 when he got a job with now-defunct local chain Jake's Pizza. He continued to work at pizzerias through college and even while in culinary school. After a few fine dining stints around the country, he made his way back to Illinois where he eventually met up with the owners of Lindy's. The menu offers ten red pizzas, five white pizzas, and a build-your-own option that starts with a base that includes tomato sauce. For my first pizza, I chose a custom pie topped with sausage and fresh mozzarella. Everything about this pizza was outstanding. The creamy house-made mozzarella and the fennel-heavy sausage (currently brought in, but soon to be made at Slyce) were both top notch. The rich, lightly tangy and sweet tomato sauce sang with flavor that comes from mixing four different types of canned tomatoes. And fortunately, that wonderful combination was served on a worthy crust. I loved Coalfire when it opened but over time I've noticed an increasing predilection for serving undercooked pizza. I can't be certain, but I suspect that came about after too many people complained about "burnt" pies. As I headed out beyond the suburbs to get to Slyce, I was expecting a pie that would suffer similarly. I could not have been more wrong. This magnificent crisp and chewy crust, made from a blend of high protein flours, had a great rustic flavor that was complemented by a gentle kiss of carbon that left no doubt as to the heat source behind the pizza. The only "flaws" were the slight wetness of the crust and the use of shredded basil, but these are really minor complaints. If you were only going to get one pizza at Slyce, you would be doing yourself a disservice if you missed out on the tomato sauce. And frankly, the sauce is so good that I'd recommend all pizzas be red. But for readers allergic to tomatoes or with severe cases of acid reflux, I can assure you that the white pies are made with as much care and served on every bit as good of a crust as the ones. I went with a pizza with mozzarella, gorgonzola, sun dried tomatoes, garlic and extra virgin olive oil. The blend of tangy and creamy cheeses along with the extra kick from the garlic and extra tang from the sun-dried tomatoes was really a great combination that was smoothed out pretty nicely by the generous pour of olive oil. If I was going to be extra picky, I'd say that I would have preferred this pizza with the added creaminess that fresh mozzarella brings, but the same thing can be said about virtually any thin crust pizza made with commercial mozzarella. The restaurant industry is tough these days, and I have no idea if Slyce is going to make it. But if the kitchen consistently puts out pizzas like I had last week, I think there's a good chance that the owners will follow through with their plans to open additional locations. I only hope that one of those new places is significantly closer to my house