Restaurant Review: Home Slice Pizza's New Location as Great as the Original
The classic local hot spot serves up its New York-style slices on North Loop
Reviewed by Jessi Cape, Fri., Aug. 10, 2018
Sun.-Thu., 11am-11pm; Fri.-Sat., 11am-12mid; closed Tue.
Even more than successfully thwarting thieves with booby traps, if there's one solid takeaway from Kevin McCallister's experiences in Home Alone, it's his pizza preferences: "A lovely cheese pizza just for me." Keep it simple with homemade red sauce, gooey mozzarella, and crispy crust on the thin side, and order in enough abundance to avoid arguments.
At Home Slice Pizza, where they've been throwing dough since 2006, the New York-style slices are served so big you have to fold them down the middle to eat, and that original South Congress location is as intrinsic to Austin as the bat bridge, which might explain why, somehow, we've never reviewed them. These former New Yorkers are bolstered by the local pizza scene, inspiring born-and-raised Texans to sit on the curb with a slice served on a paper plate, happily letting the grease drip down their arms. So if mastering a straightforward recipe and winning over the neighborhood for over a decade is the litmus test, it's no surprise that Home Slice owners, Terri Hannifin and Jen and Joseph Strickland, have managed to carry over their beloved original concept to a second location, and successfully update and expand their menu.
Also billed as a neighborhood restaurant, the North Loop pizzeria doesn't appear to have had a slow night since it opened. Double dates, families, longtime devotees thrilled about getting their fix without crossing the river, and curious new Austinites are descending upon the months-old spot in droves. Unlike the backward street parking on SoCo, here there's a small parking lot, but the surrounding streets have been swallowing the overflow, which may prove tricky if the current traffic pace continues. Predictably, it might be a considerable wait on most nights, but the staff's dedicated and consistent service has it already working like a pretty well-oiled machine.
Outside it's a standard brick building, with a visible patio bar, complete with giant fans and misters, plenty of casual seating, and an artificial turf greenspace with hills and tunnels that's perfect for letting the littles shake out their pre-dinner wiggles. Only the metallic sequined block-lettered sign whispers about the restaurant's absolutely fantastic interior.
It's dark, it's glam, it's punk. It's bustling but intimate, and that authentic pizza smell permeates every molecule in the air. Nestled comfortably between gritty, gaudy, and gorgeous, the interior space is an homage to New York at its rock & roll finest. It's as if the boldest stars of the Eighties music scene decorated a classic Italian eatery, complete with red vinyl seating, red and white checkered tablecloths, bold wooden accents, and black and white tiles. Heavily tattooed staff reflects heavily decorated walls with personalized vintage paintings and graffiti. Joey Ramone eyes a slice of pizza on the banks of a serene river landscape, John Travolta and Grandmaster Flash adorn a Love Wins mural between two columns, and a hot pink neon sign reads "Pizza is your birthright." Accents like a delightfully flamboyant antique crystal chandelier and opulent gold peacocks add even more flair. The bathrooms are stocked with hair gel, mouthwash, deodorant, and hair ties, like an old-school, big-city hotel. Even the menu, red, white, and set against a monochrome photo montage of sweaty scenesters with roller skates and Fenders, stays true to the Home Slice vision.
So, yeah, what about that pizza? Just as they've been doing for years, Home Slice pizzas are available by the slice (hands off, this one's mine!) and as huge 16-inch and 18-inch pies. (Delivery's a no-go, but they've got a separate take-out order section.) A two-tiered list of high-quality topping options range from traditional pepperoni and mushrooms to more refined textures and flavors like anchovies, fried eggplant, and Kalamatas. The "Tried and True" specialty pies like the traditional white pie with spinach, eggplant Parmesan, and, of course, the white clam pizza, are still here and just as delicious as always. This pizza is, and we really don't love this word, authentic. It's legit N.Y.-style pizza.
A new addition is the Sicilian pizza, which is available by the slice until 5pm, and after only as a whole pizza. Cooked in a deep steel pan, it's a thick and impressive beast, with a billowy interior and a crispy golden exterior. The edges are dark brown and because it's cut into squares, if you order the whole thing you'll not only stun the nearby onlookers (true story), but you can also negotiate who gets the corner pieces and who gets that ultimate gooey piece in the center (me). I'm a sauce person, and Home Slice's simple tomato recipe is good enough to eat with a spoon, so I ordered extra to slather on top of both the regular slice and the Sicilian. Another hot new menu item is Buffalo wings. While the most apparent characteristic at first glance is their small size, these wings are made from high-quality chickens. (Chicken breasts and wings are not supposed to be so large that they impede the mobility of the animal. We see you, KFC.) They're also super crispy, which is ideal for being covered in wing sauce that's spicy enough to make you sweat. Cool down with the chunky, real blue cheese dressing and celery stalks.
Aside from a slice of cheese pizza, my favorite food on the menu is the calzone. Stuffed with ricotta, mozzarella, and either more cheese, spinach, or pepperoni and sausage, it's cooked to golden brown perfection and lands with a thud, right next to a side of that kickass marinara. I ate mine for two meals. The only letdown was the chicken Parmesan club sandwich, which was, in reality, just fine. I just wish the breading had been more evident, and that there'd been more meat and veggies. The bright and lemony Caesar is refreshing and the Greek is crisp and fresh and dressed well. You can't escape the carbs though: Even the greens are served with piping hot, fist-sized garlic knots.
Back to that top-notch service. On one visit, a Friday night around 8pm, there was a 45-minute wait, so we added our name to the host's list and aimed for a cocktail at the long bar inside. As with at least half of my visits, I've managed to nab a seat at the bar, where I ended up staying put for the whole meal, perfectly content. The skilled bartenders were patient and accommodating, and because we had a small human in tow, they offered a plate of floured pizza dough to knead and stretch and occupy the time. Brilliant. Other kid-at-heart bonuses pepper the place too, from Smarties instead of after-dinner mints, to Rice Krispies treats for dessert (they've got cannolis and tiramisu, too). The new cocktail program is my other star takeaway – they're boozy and tasty and stay around the $8-12 range. Favorites include the It's Aperol Good (Aperol, Prosecco, grapefruit bitters, club soda, lemon, and olive) and the Strong Island (a five-liquor concoction with fresh lemonade and cola), and their twists on classics served up in dark bars: Soul Fashioned, Ciao Manhattan, Martini Scorsese.
The comfortable, casual, charming decadence of the space, especially when you settle in with a craft cocktail, seems even more stunning when paired against the simple goodness of Home Slice's pizza – served as either a slice all to yourself or as a pie big enough for everybody. Pizza is a perfect food, and this is one of my new favorite places to eat it.
Home Slice Pizza501 E. 53rd
Sun.-Thu., 11am-11pm; Fri.-Sat., 11am-12mid; closed Tue.
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