Job Esteban may have trouble getting people to call his pizza “ah-beetz.” He likely won’t have trouble selling it.
Esteban, with his wife Heather, opened The Slice about a month ago at 105 S. Locke St., Nappanee, in a former Bruno’s Pizza location. The logo on the sign indicates this isn’t like other pizza joints. “New Haven Style Apizza” may be making its debut in northern Indiana.
New Haven, Conn., is an old haven for great pizza and they call it “ah-beetz” there. It’s one of the historic homes of American pizza, with its own distinctions: thin crust, cheese under the ingredients and they are sometimes square or oblong rather than round. It’s also the home of clam pizza with the littleneck clams on a pie made with olive oil and garlic rather than a red sauce.
Clam pizza isn’t on the menu at The Slice. Esteban said he’s starting slow introducing the pizza he grew to love to others.
Esteban immigrated to New Haven from southern Guatemala when he was 16. He went to work in pizza shops and fell in love. “I feel like New Haven makes really good pizza,” he said.
He also fell in love with a woman from Goshen and they ended up back in this area five years ago. He’s been working as a custodian at a Goshen elementary school and she’s been an educator in the Goshen system. He’s also worked for others making the style of thick-crust pizza that’s most common in northern Indiana.
He got the chance to take over the location in downtown Nappanee and the family went to work redecorating. He went to work building a menu with a different kind of pizza.
“It’s simple,” he said. “Sometimes simple things come out good.”
He makes dough with flour, water and yeast. When an order comes in, he pries it off a tray, coats in flour, and presses out the crust with his fingers. It may have been five years since he made this kind of pizza professionally, but the hands are sure and practiced.
The thin dough goes on a gigantic wooden peel sprinkled with cornmeal. Esteban’s hands fly as they put on the toppings. The fennel sausage he makes from scratch is being ordered a lot and to put it on the pizzas, he quickly dabs it onto the cheese dozens of times before sliding the pizza into the oven.
He’s looking for the vacuum they used in New Haven to remove the cornmeal and flour from the hot pizza stones, but for now uses a dry mop. As it cooks, he checks the pizza and rotates it until the crust is golden. When it’s out of the oven, he attacks it with a cutter, the practiced hands doing another joyful task.
The pizza is Neapolitan style, but drier than the version at Pizzeria Venturi in Goshen. “I wanted something different, something new for the public,” he said.
The pizzas come in small, medium and large and cost $8 to $25. The crust is toothsome and tender and the cornmeal on the bottom side adds a bit of crunch. The toppings may be simple, but Esteban knows how to blend flavors well.
The margherita pizza with garlic, olive oil, fresh tomato, mozzarella and a little basil is selling well. It’s simply delicious with an undercurrent of garlic. The sausage pizza is also selling well, he said. Again, it’s simply crust, red sauce, cheese and sausage. Simple.
The menu has five salads and all but the mozzarella tomato salad are available for an individual or a group. It’s a great idea more restaurants could implement.
So far the only drink offerings are Pepsi products and Menno Tea, but he hopes to add beer and wine eventually. That could come later, just like longer hours.
THE SLICE NEW HAVEN STYLE APIZZA
• Address: 105 S. Locke St., Nappanee (along U.S. 6 just west of S.R. 19)
• Hours: 4 to 9 p.m. Tuesday to Saturday, 4 to 8 p.m. Sunday
• Phone: 574-773-0022
• Social media: On Facebook @TheSliceLLC and Instagram @thesliceapizza
Currently, The Slice is open 4 to 9 p.m. Tuesday to Saturday and 4 to 8 p.m. Sunday. Esteban is still working full-time and he and Heather have a toddler. He hopes to extend hours as business grows, but sales are good so far. “We’re doing really good here,” he said of sales.
Esteban said he’s tired when he gets home from working two jobs, but it’s worth it to get a start on his kind of pizza. “This is what I like to do. It’s pretty fun,” he said. “I like this kind of business.”
As he said, it’s simple really. He’s making pizza the way he knows and loves and that’s different than what’s been in this area before. It’s another option on the culinary landscape and one that’s full of flavor. I look forward to the day when it has a clam pizza on the menu.
I’m hungry. Let’s eat.