Fed Man 55: Home Slice Pizza (33)

Mike Sutter’s Top 55 Austin Restaurants
No. 33: Home Slice Pizza
1415 S. Congress Ave. 512-444-7437, www.homeslicepizza.com.
Hours: 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Monday, Wednesday and Thursday. 11 a.m. to midnight Friday-Saturday. Noon to 11 p.m. Sunday. Closed Tuesday. Next door, the More Home Slice annex is open until 11 p.m. every day, until 3 a.m. Friday-Saturday.
By Mike Sutter | Fed Man Walking | 10.15.12
Home Slice makes pizza as agile as a Shel Silverstein poem, and just as unpredictable. Twistable turnable squeezable pullable stretchable foldable. On any given day, you’ll get two, four or all six of those descriptors. It’s New York pizza with Austin’s maddening propensity for inconsistency, for doing whatever the hell it wants whenever it feels like it. But when Home Slice hits the sweet spot, it’s more than pizza. It’s poetry.
No. 1 in the Home Slice anthology is the No. 6, with sliced Italian sausage, sweet roasted red pepper and pools of ricotta like spotlights. The best pizzas are the ones with the fewest elements, and those elements should be as tightly scripted as a Soderbergh heist. The No. 6 is Clooney, Pitt and Damon, all saucy, stylish and sweet, three scenery-chewers who coalesce like the insistent Italian sharps and mellows of this pie. They’re among the ensembles that make up the “Tried and True” menu of pizzas that take the guesswork out of margherita, white clam, fried eggplant, vegetable and other combinations, even sausage and pepperoni in case you couldn’t figure that one out for yourself ($15.50 for a 14-inch medium or $18 for a 16-inch large).
The margherita brings chopped basil, chopped garlic, chopped tomato. In fact, I could do with less chopping, because sliced tomatoes, whole basil leaves and roasted cloves of garlic make a more interesting pie, visually and texturally. But close your eyes and the flavors unite like the Italian flag they celebrate, especially when the crust is right. And that’s the Shel Silverstein variable at Home Slice, the crust. Sometimes it crackles like laughter when you fold it. Sometimes it droops like a marinara waterslide. Sometimes it tastes like it was cooked on an ashtray. Most times it finds that New York groove between crust and dough, stubbornness and compromise, cruelty and kindness.
Garlic knots are an expression of that groove, the size and squeeze of a Spaldeen for stickball, bouncing with the aromatic nostalgia of a pizzeria, as if you could capture all its sights, sounds and smells in a ball of baked dough. Austin needs a salad with its nostalgia, and a plate with pears, gorgonzola cheese, beet greens, frisee and walnuts is a sweet companion. ($5.50 for the salad; $3.50 for four garlic knots with marinara.)
Home Slice imports more than the pizza of New York. Its shop is a four-part harmony of loud and crowded, starting with the counter and pizza ovens up front, a few bright booths and family tables in the middle, a back dining room marinating in dim redness and a back patio with striped picnic tables and a wall of colored plastic panes to filter the sunlight. Home Slice became so full it swallowed the building next to it to create More Home Slice for slices ($3-$3.50) and carryout. It’s a block party all the time, a South Congress institution with local beer and local lines.
Co-owner Jen Scoville Strickland used to write about food. In 1998, in a piece about Star Seeds Cafe for the Austin Chronicle, she said, “Its name frequently elicits statements of nostalgia. ‘That place reminds me of a million drunken nights while I was in school.’ ‘Yeah, it used to be great.’ “ I doubt she dreamed that seven years later she’d open a place — with her husband Joseph Strickland and friend Terri Hannifin — that would inspire the same kind of nostalgia, including the “used to be great” part. Because if there’s one thing Austin loves more than discovering some great new place, it’s the rush to say how much it sucks now. But not yet. Not for the bounceable shakeable almost unbreakable twistable turnable Home Slice.
(TOP: The No. 6 pizza with sausage, roasted pepper and ricotta cheese. INSET: Garlic knots; the middle and back dining rooms at Home Slice; the More Home Slice annex next door; a margherita pizza with tomatoes, garlic and basil. Photos by Mike Sutter © Fed Man Walking)
Mike Sutter’s Fed Man 55: Austin’s Best Restaurants