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September 22, 2023

Mastering the perfect slice of ‘za

Slice Project continues its quest for flawlessness

A lot comes to mind in the art of mastering the perfect slice of pizza.

For starters, portions are important because nobody wants to have too much sauce or too much cheese below a mountain full of toppings that prevents the dough from fully baking. 

Slice Project owner Brando Sencion said a lot of places use the “overload” method in an attempt to hide how the dough tastes, which is something he takes pride in whenever he pops out a freshly baked pizza pie straight from the oven.

“How do you remedy that? You add a bunch of toppings, and cheese and sauce,” he said. “So it’s not always a sign of a good piece of pizza. You want to have the right amount of portion on your slice.”

As funny as it sounds, he’s absolutely right. Nothing is worse than trying to pick up a slice of pizza and then plop, everything falls to the plate. 

Sencion said structure plays a big role, especially on a New York-style slice that might be too heavily topped and it turns into a floppy pizza.

Sencion does consider the business a slice shop, yet they still don’t have enough foot traffic to offer a variety of styles. It’s simply not a reality for them in downtown Watsonville.

Sencion limited his menu to just pepperoni and cheese slices mostly because people aren’t constantly walking in for a slice of ‘za. His biggest clientele are Watsonville High students that come strolling in for lunch or after school.

Plus, his biggest concern was both food cost and waste. 

“I don’t know if it’s just a Watsonville thing but the slice culture doesn’t really exist,” he said.

There will always be the debate on who offers the best overall pizza in town. Sencion said there are places such as Mountain Mike’s and Cassidy’s, yet they aren’t so much different from each other. 

The idea for him was to make Slice Project different by using high quality products and specialize in what they do best: making pizza.

Sencion and his brother, Kristian, weren’t afraid to enter the pizza market knowing places such as Pizza My Heart—the king of pizza slice shops—existed. Instead, they’ve been busy focusing on serving their community. 

“In a sense we definitely looked at what [Pizza My Heart] were doing and took notes of how they did stuff because we never ran a pizzeria,” he said.

There’s been times that Sencion will stop by Pizzamia, which has been a go-to pizza joint for many locals in Watsonville, including myself. For many years, I thought it was the only place for a slice of pizza.

Even if most folks flock to Pizza My Heart, there are plenty of other options in the area that offer their own version of what might be considered a great slice of ‘za. 

The Westside of Santa Cruz features Upper Crust Pizza on Mission Street. The options on the menu were limited to either cheese, pepperoni, mushroom, pesto, a veggie combo and the meat combo with pepperoni, sausage, mushrooms, bell peppers and onion on a Sicilian-type crust. 

The trek continues into downtown Santa Cruz where Woodstock’s Pizza has a variety of pizza slices to choose from including the Sriracha-Cha with creamy Sriracha sauce, bacon, pineapple, green onion and then topped with a Sriracha swirl.

Pleasure Pizza on Portola Drive in Santa Cruz has always been a popular spot amongst locals and tourists alike. They constantly offer a variety of pizzas to choose from including the Santa Barbara with mozzarella, parmesan and pepper jack cheeses along with spinach, artichoke hearts and green onions.

Bookie’s Pizza owner Todd Parker builds his pizzas using fresh ingredients from local farms and fishermen. He runs the shop inside of Sante Adairius Rustic Ales Portal at 1315 Water St. in Santa Cruz.

Parker doesn’t sell pizza by the slice but instead fires up Detroit-style pizzas made with dough that is naturally leavened for 48 hours using organic flour and each pizza features a unique sauce.

The ‘nduja, pineapple and anchovy pizza has a canestrino di lucca tomato sauce; while the spinach artichoke pizza is dressed with a green garlic white sauce.

Parker said selling his pizza by the slice isn’t beneficial to him in the long run and in fact could be more cost prohibitive. He also doesn’t have the foot traffic such as some of the more popular spots in Santa Cruz.

“It’s easier for people to order a whole pizza, eat what they can here and take the rest home,” he said. 

Slice Project in Watsonville mimics the New York style which is an 18-inch pizza pie cut into eight thin slices. Sencion emphasized the equal proportion of sauce, cheese, pepperoni and of course the crust, which is typically one-inch thick.

Sencion feels more comfortable with his product since Slice Project opened in 2019. At first he called the pizza New York-inspired because he didn’t want customers criticizing.

It took two years of experimenting before they officially gave it the New York-style name. 

“We just weren’t comfortable with it,” he said. “We weren’t sure if we’re fully there and finally I think we’re a little more comfortable saying, yes, this is a New York-style pizza.”

Sencion said the pizza industry can get complicated, polarizing and at times almost political. He’s seen people walk into the shop and right off the bat let it be known they’re a native New Yorker or from some place on the East Coast. 

So far, most of the comments received include how the pizza reminds customers of home and claiming it’s the best they’ve had in the West Coast. 

“We get praises like that but for the most part we definitely tried to make a pizza that reflects what the East Coast does,” he said.

For now, the goal for Sencion is to establish Slice Project as a pizzeria in Watsonville and make a name for themselves. Slowly but surely they’re working their way toward it. 

“We specialize in [pizza], it’s what we do,” he said.

Juan Reyes
A Watsonville native who has a passion for local sports and loves his community. A Watsonville High, Cabrillo College, San Jose State University and UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism alumnus, he primarily covers high school athletics, Cabrillo College athletics, various youth sports in the Pajaro Valley and the Santa Cruz Warriors. Juan is also a video game enthusiast, part-time chef (at home), explorer and a sports junkie. Coaches and athletic directors are encouraged to report scores HERE.



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