INDIAN ROCKS BEACH
Launching a pizzeria that seems fresh and "new" is a tall order. There are approximately 3 billion pizzas sold annually in the United States from an estimated 60,000 pizza parlors. It is said that pizzerias represent 17 percent of all restaurants in the country. That's a lot of competition for an aspiring pizza impresario. How to distinguish oneself from the throngs?
Ken Gillespie and Jack Bennett thought of a way. The two partners in Bennett Custom Construction decided they wanted to try their hand in the restaurant business, a pizzeria their objective (as Gillespie says, "pizza is like religion: people fight about what is good pizza and what is bad"). They set their sights on "the triangle" in Indian Rocks Beach, a once-booming business district surrounded by State Road 688, State Road 699 and the Intracoastal Waterway that has recently suffered from pedestrian access issues, lack of parking and condo sprawl.
Doing a full buildout in a former crystal and rock shop, they launched Slyce Pizza Bar, emphasis on the bar. There is an extensive wine and craft beer list, full bar, live music and the "clubby" environment make it the edgiest pizzeria on the beaches, for sure.
But a pizzeria is only as good as its pie. Jonathan Bunsfield, with a long and impressive resume as an executive pastry chef, came most recently from stints at Tour de Pizza in St. Petersburg and the now-defunct Pssghetti's in Clearwater. Hired as the Slyce chef, he and general manager Suzanne Brown designed a menu of novel pizzas complemented by sophisticated salads and appetizers.
There are some shock-value pies: A Coney Island ($16.99) topped with chili and sliced Sabrett dogs; the super-spicy Sunburn ($21.99) with chilies and hot sausage and a side of Sriracha. But the bulk of the pizza menu are thoughtful combinations of ingredients set atop a thin-but-chewy New York-style crust (you can also craft your own pie). Top honors go to the Pear A Dice ($21.99) with sliced pear, Gorgonzola and sliced prosciutto along with a mantle of mozzarella. I admit, froufrou, but delicious. Also no red sauce, the Piece Out Whitey ($15.99) brought a very minimalist but lush mozzarella and fontina pie with a garlic wallop (we added ricotta to ours, a good move).
Of the more traditional tomato-sauced pizzas, we had a roasted veggie (bell peppers, red onion, criminis, spinach and garlic; $17.99), which we rendered less pious with the addition of applewood smoked bacon ($1.75 extra) — despite a lot of toppings, there was no sogginess, the tomato sauce flavorful and the crust maintaining its integrity. Pies are served in two halves on a tiered platter to conserve room on the table. An added bonus to this is that you can easily split ingredients on a pizza, so olive haters won't have to worry about the green devils creeping onto their half.
Seldom does a pizza parlor offer much beyond garlic knots and a couple salads as appetizers. At Slyce you can sample fried wontons filled with spinach-artichoke dip and paired with a sweet chili sauce and a spicier wasabi-inflected sauce ($6.99), or a house salad ($4.99 small, $9.99 large) that includes hearts of palm, dried cranberries, gorgonzola and candied nuts. Not typical pizzeria stuff.
"Hip" is the word that comes first to mind at Slyce, the down side being that it can be noisy and a little frenetic, Loud music and tons of televisions make ordering tricky sometimes. Tables are set a little tight and servers can occasionally get waylaid elsewhere. Still, Slyce, its logo a triangle that looks part pizza, part martini glass, brings new energy to the triangle in Indian Rocks Beach.
Laura Reiley can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 892-2293. She dines anonymously and unannounced. The Times pays all expenses. Advertising has nothing to do with selection for review or the assessment.