Slyce Pizza Bar
3.5 out of 5 stars
662 150th Ave., Madeira Beach. Appetizers: $5-$10; entrees $9-$25; desserts: $5; wines by the glass: $5-$12.50; beer: $3.50-$8. 727-308-7881; slycepizzabar.com.
When Jack Bennett and Ken Gillespie decided to expand their popular Indian Rocks Beach hangout, Slyce Pizza Bar, they wisely chose a location on the Intracoastal Waterway in Madeira Beach. To make the most of the new locale, they've built the whole operation on the second story.
If you're lucky enough to find a seat outside on the patio, you've got a smashing view of the water and the bridge over to the beach. There's a handsome canopy all lit up with parallel lines of hanging lights. And on the occasion that the breeze off the water brings a slight chill after sunset, there's also a group of tall heaters throwing a pillar of dancing yellow flame skyward; it's an alluring sight that takes the chill out of the night air. Snowbirds may laugh at us locals, but dining al fresco for as long as possible is one of the great joys of living on Florida's Gulf Coast.
We start with spinach-artichoke wontons, a clever way to serve this popular dip. Instead of dunking in a bowl, the rectangular platter has five crunchy wonton purses that release their creamy insides with each yummy bite. Sweet Thai chili and mild cusabi sauces accompany this one, but that really doesn't matter — the wontons stand alone.
Another creative starter is the Italian sushi roll. The "wrapper" is a layer of prosciutto rolled around a filling of fresh, crisp bright green arugula, cucumber, roasted peppers and a thin stick of mozzarella, which looks every bit like the ubiquitous artificial "krab" sticks that show up so often in sushi. As with maki, the roll is presented in slices cut across to reveal its colorful fillings. The restaurant includes a cusabi dipping sauce dotted with black sesame and some balsamic glaze for kicks. It's a delightful way to begin.
The baked wings with dry rub are sensational. I don't eat tons of wings, but I'd be hard-pressed to figure out how these could be improved. They're cooked perfectly; the meat is succulent and juicy with skin that's wonderfully golden and crisp. The dry rub is a lesson in balance between salt and black pepper, just enough heat from chili powder to put your taste buds on notice, and a masterful blend of rosemary and thyme to round out a flavor combo that makes you want more.
Featuring a quartet of huge meaty orbs with real depth of flavor, not filler with red sauce, is the meatball sub. There's a gooey layer of melted Provolone, too, adding to the sub's joy. Plus, the pasta salad side isn't an afterthought; it's an orzo-based concoction with a balance of cream and crunch and acidity that serve as nice complements.
And then there's the pizza. Regular readers know that I did an extensive survey of local pies with a Pizza Marathon in 2015. Slyce isn't about wood-fired crust; its emphasis is inventive, fresh toppings. We even explored the gluten-free and deep-dish options that weren't part of the original marathon.
While single artisan "slyces" are available, my group goes with 10-inch individual pies. (Unless you're super hungry or a big eater, there's enough left for tomorrow's lunch.) We land on the Pear A Dice pizza with olive oil, sliced pear, Gorgonzola and mozzarella cheeses topped with sliced prosciutto. One companion flips over the Truffle Shuffle, which sautés a mix of gourmet forest mushrooms in truffle oil with a touch of garlic and, of course, mozzarella. Both are just terrific.
Here, the gluten-free crust is simple, and gets raves from my "intolerant" diner. When topped with roasted veggies — including fresh spinach, cremini mushrooms, roasted peppers, onions, a touch of garlic and a sprinkle of mozzarella — there's flavor to spare.
The individual-size Chicago deep-dish pizza piles mozzarella on the bottom, topping it with a meat lover's dream of ham, sausage, meatballs, bacon, a second layer of cheese, and red sauce. Rising above the base toppings, the crust curls inward as it crisps and takes on char. I sense an odd "off" taste that I can't quite place, but the combo is appealing nonetheless for deep-dish enthusiasts.
When it comes to desserts, the restaurant has wisely opted to stick with what it does best and outsource its sweets to a reliable vendor, Mike's Pies. I've long been a fan because Mike's produces classic versions of traditional pies and cakes with great consistency; nothing surprising, just good old-fashioned recipes that always deliver.
Slyce focuses on three popular favorites — cheesecake (with a new salted caramel twist), triple chocolate layer cake and a quintessential key lime pie, which is everything this dessert should be but seldom is. Diners may have personal preferences for filling that's lighter and mousse-like, or that's not so tart it makes you pucker, or that's piped with meringue. But the real deal is made with condensed milk, eggs and plenty of juice. This means it's sweet, densely creamy and bracingly tart with a buttery crust of crushed Graham crackers. It's the standard against which this dessert should be judged.
There are tasty treats all over the menu, so now's the season to head on down and enjoy a Slyce with friends. I'm choosing Mad Beach's water view; sorry, IRB.