inside Slice Project in Watsonville, purveyor of New York-style pizza
Brando Sencion with a New York-style slice at downtown Watsonville’s Slice Project.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)
Food & Drink

Slice Project flies the flag for authentic New York-style pizza in downtown Watsonville

With huge pies gooey with cheese, a chewy crust and perfectly foldable, Watsonville natives Brando and Kristian Sencion are keeping it simple as Slice Project makes the case for New York-style pizza in Santa Cruz County.

I lived in New York City for a few months after I graduated college, and in that time I ate an untold amount of pizza, usually in the form of a $1 slice bought from any of the small pizzerias littered around lower Manhattan. Gobbling down a huge wedge of pepperoni or cheese, folded in half to prevent the warm grease from dripping down my arm and eaten one-handed on a busy street, I felt like a real New Yorker.

But I’ve never felt more Californian than the first and only time I asked one of the pizza guys for ranch dressing to dip my crust in. He didn’t even use words to answer me, but I’ll never forget his withering glare; ranch apparently wasn’t a traditional topping. I stuck with red pepper flakes and Parmesan after that.

At Slice Project, brothers and Watsonville natives Brando and Kristian Sencion specialize in crafting authentic New York-style pizzas — a style that has, surprisingly, yet to gain popularity in pizza-obsessed Santa Cruz County.

Over the past four years since they opened their pizzeria in downtown Watsonville, they’ve worked on perfecting their technique — pressing out 19-inch-wide pizzas requires its own set of skills — while using some of the best ingredients on the market, including Central Milling Red Rose flour, Stanislaus canned tomatoes and mozzarella from Grande Cheese Company. Says Brando Sencion, “Our pizza has definitely evolved. If you came here in 2019 or 2020, it was one product, but now it’s something else.”

The result is phenomenal. Huge pies with a thin, crispy, golden undercarriage that’s pliable enough to fold, topped with rich marinara and gooey — never rubbery — cheese that pulls from the center in long, delicious strands. The crust is chewy without being too bready and, if you order it by the slice, your individual serving will be reheated in the oven for an even crispier bottom. Even a plain cheese slice ($4) is memorable, although it’s hard to resist the curled cupping pepperoni ($4.75).

I’ve outgrown my desire for ranch dressing, but Brando says he doesn’t have a problem breaking with tradition to make sure his customers are happy. When it first opened, Slice Project offered only pepperoni, cheese and a supreme or combo-style pizza, but customers came in wanting their favorite toppings: “We weren’t carrying ranch, jalapeños or pineapple in the beginning. But now we carry all those things and then we started developing different pies.”

Beyond that, the brothers plan on keeping their pizza simple, classic and “not too cheffy.”

“We’re not using crazy ingredients, because we just feel like [our pizza] is for everyone to enjoy,” Brando Sencion says. “And not to say that some ingredients aren’t for everyone to enjoy, but there are higher price points when it comes to that. So we tried to just keep it a traditional pizzeria.”

300 Main St., Watsonville. 831-319-4851.

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