Coal-fired oven sets Wauconda’s Slyce apart

Posted by Carolyn Walkup

If you’re looking for thick, hearty Chicago-style deep-dish pizza, Slyce may not be your piece of pie. However, if you like a thin-crust version of the classic Neapolitan-style pizza from Italy, complete with a variety of out-of-the-ordinary toppings, this Wauconda full-service pizzeria could be on your favorites list. Decor is contemporary and pleasant in a vintage building that has been completely renovated. A small bar in the front provides a pleasant area while you wait for a table, which can take awhile on busy nights in light of the no-reservations policy. Choice seats in the 65-seat dining room are the high-backed booths along the walls.

The two of us snagged bar stools and enjoyed the first sips of a full-bodied Italian Sangiovese and the first bites of our appetizer before our table was ready in a mere 15 minutes or so early on a Friday night. Wines are priced from $7 to $13 by the glass and $18 to $29 by the bottle. A nice selection of micro-brewed beers, plus a full range of mixed drinks also are available. Setting itself apart, Slyce has a coal-fired oven, which uses clean-burning anthracite coal and heats to a temperature between 850 and 900 degrees. This cooking method results in a crisp, slightly smoky-flavored crust that stands up well to most toppings.

Gary Bougie, executive chef and general manager, says he was aiming for “true Italian-American style.” “The original pizzas made in the U.S. were coal-fired,” he says.

Before opening Slyce last fall with partner Brittany Barth of Lindy’s Landing across the street, Bougie worked at Georgio’s in Crystal Lake. He got the idea for his coal-fired concept from a restaurant he saw in Florida. All pizzas are the same size — 12 inches — perfect for two or three to share, assuming you’re having additional courses. Making artisan pizzas in small batches takes a little time, so having an appetizer is a good way to stave off hunger pangs. There are seven choices of small plates intended to serve two, mostly Italian-influenced, such as bruschetta, meatballs or stuffed mushrooms. We sampled the oven-roasted chicken wings with caramelized onion. These wings are quite different from the usual Buffalo wings served in sports bars and are much better, in my opinion. Instead of being deep-fried, they’re roasted after marinating in lemon juice and herbs — a lower-calorie twist on the traditional and one I definitely would order again. We then opted for a salad, which would be enough for an entree if ordered alone. The classic is a simple toss of fresh mixed field greens, red onions, extra-virgin olive oil and oregano-infused white balsamic vinegar. The flavors were excellent — super fresh and lightly accented with the tangy dressing. Five additional salad choices are offered. Moving on to the main course, we tried a pizza bianca, or white pizza, with no tomato sauce. Toppings included mozzarella, Romano, fresh basil, dried oregano, arugula, prosciutto, garlic, goat cheese and extra-virgin olive oil. Very fresh arugula was piled in the middle of the sliced pie, lending almost a salad vibe. The flavors melded well together, although roasting the prosciutto bits brought out their saltiness more than I like. Another quibble is that the mozzarella and Romano masked the taste of the goat cheese. Other topping combinations range from meatball, ricotta and garlic with tomato sauce — a best-seller — to a pizza bianca with Gorgonzola, sun-dried tomatoes and garlic. You can also build your own toppings from a long list of choices, starting with a base that includes tomato sauce, mozzarella and Romano at $11.99 before adding more toppings. Meats and extra cheeses can be added for $1.75 per ingredient, and produce for $1.25. Protein choices are fennel sausage, pepperoni, prosciutto, meatballs or anchovies, while vegetables range from oyster mushrooms to marinated eggplant.

Everything except the desserts is made in-house, Bougie says. That includes grinding bulk sausage and seasoning it with Slyce’s special spice blend. For anyone not ordering pizza, the menu lists two warm coal-fired sandwiches on focaccia — house-roasted turkey or roast beef. Another patron boasted that the turkey is the best he’s ever eaten. Following our pizza, we ended on a sweet note with a shared tiramisu. Cocoa powder and creamy mascarpone cheese were the predominant flavors in this pleasantly light version. Gelato, available in four flavors, is the only other dessert choice. Service was very efficient, despite the full house. The knowledgeable waitress knew the answers to our questions and kept a carafe of ice water filled.

Slyce is a welcome contemporary addition to Wauconda’s quaint Main Street.