Slice me! New London pizza bar stakes its claim

Inspired by endurance athletes, whose dedication and self-discipline shame me, I aspired to embark on the most grueling and physically demanding project the world has ever known.

What I came up with was: to eat at every pizza restaurant in southeastern Connecticut.

I floated the concept by Mark Allen (six-time winner, Hawaiian Ironman), who said, "Don't try it, Rick! It can't be done. There are just too many!"

Marcus Luttrell (ex-Navy SEAL, author of "Lone Survivor") snorted with laughter when I told him my goal. "Koster, you're a badass. One of the toughtest I've ever known. But - " here Luttrell narrowed his eyes and took a deep breath - "what you're talking about is sheer lunacy! Did you know there are over 16,000 pizza restaurants in New London, Groton and Waterford alone?!"

They were both right - or would have been if they'd actually said such things. I don't really know Allen or Luttrell, but I'm certain they'd have warned me off the Pizza Project if I did know them.

Because, in fact, it CANNOT be done.

I know that now. I was a fool for trying.

However, before I abandoned the quest, I did make it by the Slice Pizza Bar in New London, hard to the Coast Guard Academy and Connecticut College and, curiously, across the street from Mister G's, one of the most beloved restaurants in the state - and purveyor of excellent pizza.

On the other hand, Slice, which opened in the old Campus Pizza location about nine months ago, is targeting a different demographic than the family-happy confines of G's.

Slice is essentially two small rooms in one. There's the food side, which is more or less a take-out/delivery construct although there are four tables where you can sit and eat. This area is divided by a chest-high divider from a small but full bar area with about 20 beers on tap. Apparently, the pub is quite popular with of-age Coasties and Conn kids.

Back to the food side. If indeed you're going to dine-in, it's pleasant enough. There's no official waitstaff; the employees share duties ranging from cashier to waiter to cook to delivery person. If that seems haphazard, it's also true that we were taken care of just fine.

As "Slice" might suggest, pizza is a priority, and they turn out some damned good pies. In particular, the crust is a wonder. It's very thin and crisp, but there's somehow a spongey density associated with deep-dish pies. Not sure how they accomplish this, but it's alchemical. The cheese-to-sauce ratio seems ladled out in favor of the former, but there's enough tart tomato presence to offer a piquant balance - and it all works beautifully with whatever ingredients you select.

Eileen, the vegetable-embracing Spouse Unit, invented her own creation from a generous list of usual and not so usual toppings: sun-dried tomatoes (a revelation on a pizza menu!), artichoke hearts and ricotta cheese ($13, large). It was a splendid and tastebud-twirling accomplishment.

I tried a large shaved steak and green olive combo ($12) - and Slice joins the estimable Captain's Pizza as that rare parlor with green olives - and was delighted by the medley.

On another visit, My Pal Huoppi discussed why he considers a Meat Lover's pie to be the ultimate test of the pizza maker's art, and ordered accordingly. It arrived with five key ingredients - bacon, meatball, hamburger, pepperoni, ham and sausage - assembled like a star cluster on the crust. While the bacon could have been a bit crisper, the overall circus of carnivore-madness was a another triumph. It's $16 for a large.

We've also tried grinders and a burger at Slice. You should know that there's a lunch special: any kind of eight-inch grinder with fries or chips and a 20-ounce fountain drink is $6.99; make it a foot-long grinder for $7.99. Helluva deal. A meatball grinder was served on a crispy bun with marinara and gooey cheese augmenting the nicely spiced meatballs. Also tasty: the Italian, with ample amounts of Genoa and ham with provolone and oil.

With all of this goodness, I'm not sure why you'd order a burger. But the double cheeseburger deluxe ($9.49 with pickles and excellent fries) was a huge, juicy, messy triumph.

SLICE PIZZA BAR

465 Williams St., New London
(860) 442-6666, slicepizzabar.com

Cuisine: pizza, grinders, wraps, sandwiches, wings et al.

Atmosphere: the dining side is very sparse and basic because it's mostly a take-out clientele. The adjoining bar is small but comfortable with plenty of beers on tap and big-screens for sports watching.

Service: Everyone pitches in and customers are always a priority. Oddly, during one eat-in visit, the house sound system played loud music in direct competition with the volume from an unwatched Jon Taffer/"Bar Rescue" program.

Hours: 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Mon.-Thurs., 11 a.m.-2 a.m. Fri.-Sat., noon-10 p.m. Sun.

Prices: Pizza $8-$18; grinders $5.49-$8.49; wings and sides $2.49-$28.99, burgers, calzones, strombolis and chicken sandwiches $7.99-$9.49; salads and sides $4.99-$9.95.

Handicapped access: Not easy. Two front entrances, each of which is a three-step half-circle of bricks. The side entrance to the kitchen would work.

Credit cards: All majors.

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