Hi there. I’m Phil. I’m the Senior Kitchen Manager here at Home Slice Pizza and I am the luckiest guy in the world. The world. Two years ago I met Lauren Shugart, winner of the 2010 Hands On an Eggplant Sub (H.O.E.S) competition. When she was being interviewed prior to the competition, she was asked what set her apart, what made her think that she could win this challenge of endurance and will. Her response was short, sweet, and to the point: “I’m a champ.” She IS a champ. She was a champ before she competed and took the title for H.O.E.S. 2010. She was a champ when she won it. And she was still a champ last night when we met at Home Slice to have some slices, drink some wine (the Salice Salentino that was recommended by Ross. Thanks, Ross!), and chat about the Carnival past, and the upcoming Carnival O Pizza, which is coming up on November 10th, 2012.
Phil: Lauren, what is your fondest memory from the Hands On An Eggplant Sub competition?
Lauren: There are really two memories. The first was the cup of coffee. I love coffee. I tried not to drink much of anything during the competition and so I hadn’t had any coffee for the length of it. That cup of coffee that someone, I can’t even remember who, handed me that morning, it was delicious. The second memory was when you brought me into the kitchen, opened the oven doors, and you had me smell the bread that was baking.
Phil: I LOVE that moment. I recall it fondly too! It was early in the morning, hours before we open, and we were baking off the bread for the day. Both of my ovens were full of our bread. That smell, that smell of freshly baking bread, man, it just smells like hope, like anything is possible, like life is amazing. Because it is. I was really grateful to have been there when you took the title, and to share with you the thing that bakers get to experience every day before dawn breaks.
Lauren: It was really nice.
Phil: Was there a moment of craziness?
Lauren: Craziness? No. Crazy laughter? Yes. We laughed so much. So much. The Chad (Chad Garyet) was hilarious. Maybe we were giddy from sleep deprivation. At one point I had thought that the table we were standing at had moved. I mean, I thought that the table had been at the back of the restaurant, then at the side of the More Home Slice, then in front of More Home Slice.
Phil: Maybe your brain was inventing movement because you had been standing in the same place so long.
Phil: Did you have any moment of clarity that came from all of that? Any kind of sweat lodge epiphany?
Lauren: Not really. There was a moment towards the end when I was feeling pretty nauseous. I was standing there, hand in the sub, and trying to figure out what I was going to do. Do I just lean away and hope for the best? Do I take my hand off and give up? It was pretty uncomfortable for a little while. I came pretty close to giving up right then and there, and I was pretty far in. It was only Chad, Sonia (Sonia Arellano) at that point. I really didn’t think I was going to make it and I’d come so far already. But then it passed and I was okay. Then I knew I was going to take it all the way to the end.
Phil: Which you did.
Lauren: Which I did.
Phil: Because you’re a champ. What kind of advice could you give the contestants this year?
Lauren: You don’t need all the stuff you think you want to bring. I brought an iPod; I never listened to it. I brought books; I never read them. I did bring a shoe box full of dog food.
Phil: A shoe box full of dog food?
Lauren: Well, a taped shoe box full of dog food. My dogs were pretty confused when I was putting it together.
Phil: Okay, what’s up with the shoe box and the dog food?
Lauren: Well, if you’re going to be standing for a long period of time it helps to shift your weight from leg to leg and to elevate your feet back and forth. I chose the shoe box because I could change the height by putting it either horizontally or vertically and change the position of my foot. I used the dog food because I needed to weight it down and I had a lot of dog food available. You know, because of my dogs.
Phil: That’s brilliant! Did you have any fear of attracting roving bands of feral dogs?
Lauren: No. But I think that could have worked in my favor.
Phil: How did you prepare for this kind of competition?
Lauren: I didn’t, really. I decided to do it a couple of weeks before the event. I had seen it on the Home Slice website and thought it would be a cool thing to do. So I signed up. Then the Sunday before the Saturday of Carnival I decided I should probably try standing for a little while to get a sense of what I was getting myself into. So I stood for an hour, and then I stopped. It was standing just like I remembered standing. No big deal. Bring on the competition.
Phil: What about footwear?
Lauren: Footwear is really important. I love camping and I’ve got this awesome pair of blue hiking boots I wore. They’re really sturdy w/ great support. And they’re blue. I do have to say that the fact that they’re hiking boots and have ankle support made a huge difference. Also I brought I yoga mat to stand on. I think Seth (Seth Mazow, Champion 2008, 2009) did that as well.
Phil: I had heard that Seth had BUILT his own yoga mat for the competition.
Lauren: That sounds like Seth.
Phil: So I gotta say, one of the things I love about your win was how Sam supported you throughout. You and she are just a great couple. Sonia’s family was supportive to her. Chad’s folks were for him. I know your Mom came and supported you as well, but it really seemed to me that Sam played a pretty big role in your support, which lead to your championship title.
Lauren: Yeah, she’s great. She put up with my mood swings. That was really a great comfort. That last day she was heading to work really early and she had stopped by the store to pick up some bananas for me. But the bananas weren’t ripe enough. They were green. I kind of lost it. I mean, I was really tired. But all I wanted was a banana and the bananas she brought I couldn’t eat. It really bummed me out. I sent her away and she was really sort of bummed out that I was so upset. But she kept texting me afterwards and kept encouraging me to keep on, even though I was clearly at my wits end.
Phil: Do you feel differently about pizza now then before? I mean, having eaten pizza free for a year did your discover anything about pizza that you didn’t know before?
Lauren: I’ve always loved pizza. Really the difference between then and now is the relationship with Home Slice that happened during that year I was Champion. When I would come in once a week, because I came in at least once a week, everyone was really cool, really nice. It was never like “Oh, here’s the girl who gets free pizza”. It was always like, “Hey! It’s Lauren!” That was really great. Also I got to see how you guys approach this really simple food for the art that it is. You care so much about every part of it. It’s so clear. So many people look at pizza as just disposable food. Just the kind of thing you order in the morning when you’re hung over (not that I’ve ever done that). Whatever. Point is that it’s more than that. Food is more than that. It’s kind of sad that people don’t really stop to eat, or stop to eat together, to share a meal, to share the experience. You guys do that really well. You guys love the food, the experience, the whole thing. It’s bigger than pizza.
Phil: Thanks! So are you going to compete this year?
Lauren: I was thinking about it but it falls on the same weekend as Field Biology Trip. It’s a bummer. If it weren’t for the conflicting schedule I would do it again.
Phil: What frightens you in a competitor?
Lauren: Nothing. There’s nothing in a competitor that would frighten me. Annoy me, maybe.
Phil: What inspires you in a competitor?
Lauren: Super annoying people.
Phil: How do super annoying people inspire you?
Lauren: Some people just need to be taken down a couple notches, Phil. Some people just need to be taken down.
Phil: Do you still think of yourself as a H.O.E.?
Lauren: Yeah, but I don’t want to be that guy. That “remember when” guy. That “remember me, wasn’t that cool” guy. But it’s definitely a big part of who I am, and what I can accomplish. The competition came around at a pretty pivotal part of my life. I was only really starting to make smart, adult decisions. And then I did the contest. I made a decision and I stuck by it. I followed through with it. I believed in myself. It was the decision to do things that are cool and not shitty. That served me well ever since.
Phil: What did it feel like the first time you stuck your hand in the sub?
Lauren: It was gross. I thought it would be hotter but it wasn’t. It just felt gross.
Phil: Did you choose left or right hand?
Lauren: Right. There had been some discussion about it. I’m right handed. A lot of people said that I should go w/ the left so I could keep my dominant hand free. But I thought that if I had to think about what I was doing w/ my left hand it would be better, keep me more alert. I thought I could control my dominant hand better and keep it in the sub. Of course it got tricky putting on and taking off my headphones. HEADPHONES, by the way. Use ear buds. They’re crappy headphones and bad for your ears, but trying to put on proper headphones w/ only one hand is pretty challenging. That’s why the robe was so awesome.
Phil: The robe! Right! I had forgotten that robe. It looked like a 50s housewife robe.
Lauren: It may not have been the cleanest robe but it added to my mystique…
Phil: No, I mean it just looked hilarious. Like you looked like The Dude.
Lauren: Right. It was pretty comfortable. And easy to put on and take off with one hand.
Phil: Is there something you would have done differently if you were going to compete this year?
Lauren: I would just bring less stuff. Robe. Shoe Box with dog food. Ripe bananas.
Phil: Why is H.O.E.S. special to you?
Lauren: Because of the relationships. Because of Home Slice’s relationship to its neighborhood. It’s commitment to quality. (You guys should open a shop up North, you know). Because of what it showed me I was capable of. That and every time I come to More Home Slice I get kind of sentimental when I go to the bathroom…
Lauren: That’s the bathroom we got to use for our bathroom breaks. It became this very special and safe place for me. I could move my arms. I could spin around. I could stretch and breath. I could be alone. I still feel really romantic about that bathroom. I love it so much.
Phil: What’s your favorite topping on a pie?
Lauren: I love the clam pie. It’s amazing. I mean it’s so good. Also the pepperoni and mushroom is Sam’s favorite. Those are the two we normally get.
Phil: What’s the craziest pie you’ve ordered?
Lauren: There were some friends of mine who ordered this super over topped pizza even though I advised them against it. It had every ingredient. When it got to the table I looked at it and said, “No. No way I’m eating that”. It was just too much.
Phil: What combination doesn’t work?
Lauren: Anchovies, for sure. I mean I love them in your Caesar Dressing. But anchovies all by themselves? No. Broccoli is too bulky. Also, and I hate to say it, Fresh Mozzarella. It’s just too much. It’s too thick. It throws off the balance of the pizza.
Phil: What would you tell someone who knows nothing about the Carnival O Pizza?
Lauren: That it’s an amazing charity event, run by a local pizza shop, doing cool things that are unexpected. Phil, you always talk about the families, and the kids playing with dough, and this vibe of a bunch of people sharing this experience all at once. That’s what I would talk about. I’d talk about how it’s all these people who don’t know each other but who are really connected. And that it happens. It’s kind of amazing that it happens at all, really. But it happens for everyone, all at once, so they can share this thing, altogether. That’s what I’d say about the Carnival.
Phil: Thanks, Champ. You’re the bomb.
Lauren: You too, Phil.
With that, we ended our conversation. We had killed the bottle of Salice Salentino (again, great recommendation, Ross!) and went back to More Home Slice to grab a couple of slices of pepperoni for her to take home to Sam. We held hands for a second while she looked wistfully at the bathroom she loves so much. I said goodnight to the Champ and she went home to her loving girlfriend and dogs, who are still confused as to why she taped up that shoebox full of dog food.
Hey kids, our 7th Annual Carnival O’ Pizza is coming up on November 10th, right here at Home Slice Pizza! Would you like to win free pizza for a year by winning our Extreme Pizza Eating Competition or testing your endurance by being the last person standing in our Hands On An Eggplant Sub (H.O.E.S) contest? If so, click on the link below to download your application today! Fill it out, bring it in and win some serious eats. Free pizza for a year?? Fuggedaboutit!!!
Our week in the Big Apple was incredible, and once again the wonderful world of New York pizza has left us excited, inspired, motivated, and most of all, uncomfortably full. Although we almost certainly didn’t hit everyone’s favorite pizza joint, we hit as many as we could and had such a blast doing it. We are proud to be part of the rich culinary history that is New York style pizza, and are excited to be back in Austin with some new pages to add to the textbook.
As soon as we landed at JFK we hitched a ride to L&B Spumoni for some much needed Sicilian pies and adult beverages. This place is so rich in history and pride. Everywhere you go in this part of Brooklyn, cabbies, bodega attendants, and just about everyone else under the sun will tell you stories of going to L&B when they were kids. Its such a cool place, and is always dependable for some good conversation with some locals.
What else would we do after gorging ourselves with pizza and beer but ride roller coasters? This is not for the faint of heart, or body for that matter, kids. Coney Island is another place that immediately transports you to another time; A time when six fresh clams and a soda cost a dime, and the Cyclone was the eternal summer dream. Although the prices may have changed since the first carousel was opened in the park in 1876, the magic of Coney Island certainly hasn’t. If you’re in the area, don’t forget to go see our friends down at Totonno’s. This is the home to one of our favorite white pies in the entire universe, and they’ve been making it the same since 1924!
Dinner on our first evening came from the always incredible Lombardi’s Pizzeria. One of the (if not the) oldest pizzerias in the world, Lombardi’s continues to impress us every year. Their homemade ricotta cheese is out of this world, and they have been cooking their pies in the same oven since 1905! This place is the perfect end to a long day in the city.
Day two started with some INCREDIBLE sandwiches from Parm, formerly known as Torrisi, which has since branched out into dinner service. There are simply no words to describe the perfection of these sandwiches. The turkey roll continues to blow us away every year, and the chicken parm is not far behind.
After a day spent scouring the city for Sicilian slices and new clothes, the team was off to Staten Island and Denino’s Pizzeria and Tavern. This place holds a very dear place in the Home Slice family’s heart, and never ceases to be one of the most comfortable and welcoming places we visit. Denino’s has been family-owned since 1937, and they make sure you leave happy every time. If you go there, be sure to try the wings, you won’t be sorry you did!
Day three brought us to uncharted territory, venturing into New Haven, Connecticut for a visit to Pepe’s Pizzeria. This place has been doing it the same way since 1925, and it did not disappoint. If you make it to Pepe’s, don’t miss the clam pie (bacon optional), and the white pie with spinach, mushroom and gorgonzola. This was yet another place where we were treated to incredible service. A table for 19 in a place that holds roughly 40 is no small task, but they made it feel like it was nothing. If you ever happen to be in New Haven, don’t miss Pepe’s.
Our final day in the city took us to Harlem, and Patsy’s Pizzeria. Patsy’s is old school (est. 1933), and has a way of making you feel like you’re in the middle of a mafia movie. There are countless celebrity pictures hanging on the walls and they are able to cook their pies in a mind-blowing 2 minutes!! This is certainly a place to check out if you are in the neighborhood.
“The Last Supper” went down at the lovely Ristorante Rubirosa. They crafted a menu tailor-made just for us!! Our final dinners are our opportunity to wrap up our trip, relax, and really enjoy our last evening together. Rubirosa was the perfect host, never letting a wine glass go empty, being incredibly hospitable, and of course knocking our socks off with some incredible Italian cuisine. All hand-crafted pastas and sauces made to order make for an incredible dining experience. Everything on the table was awesome, but you can’t go wrong with the rigatoni or eggplant parmesan, both of which were incredible!
The week, as most do, went by much too fast. New York opened her big arms to us once again, and we gladly accepted the love. Home Slice group 2 will be headed back in just a couple of weeks, after which you can expect more exciting news and pictures. Till then, keep your parm shakers high and your wine glasses full!!
Just in case you thought we were kidding about scouring the entire City for the best pizza, click on this link to see our itinerary: NYC Schedule 2012. See your favorite place on the list? No? Tell us about it, we are dying to hear some great stories! We will be posting pics and notes about our travels all week long. Stay Tuned!!!!
The time has come once again for the great Home Slice Pizza pilgrimage to the birth place of the slice. This will be our 6th annual trip, and as always we will be taking our most seasoned pizzavores. Two groups of 16 Home Slicers on two separate trips will be scouring the big city in search of new joints as well as some old school classics to remind us of just why we love pizza so much.
Don’t worry, we are going to make sure that we keep ourselves limber by hitting the rides at Coney Island. And as a reward for our hard work, we will be stuffing our faces at Totonno’s Pizzeria right down the street. These peeps have kept it in the family, and have been doing it the same since 1924!
Places like Totonno’s serve as a constant reminder of why this trip is so important to the Home Slice Family. “We make this trip to remember that we are part of a tradition” says Nano Whitman, General Manger. “Coming back here reminds us all that we are part of something much bigger than Home Slice, and that it is our responsibility to bring that tradition back to our home.”
Come on into the restaurant and we will tell you all about it. Just so you know, we’ll be closed at original Home Slice on Tuesday or Wednesday (Sept 4 & 5). (More Home Slice will be open every day as always.)
This year’s journey promises to be a great one! Stay tuned here for updates.
Never, ever wonder “what’s good here?” at a restaurant again. The app Chef’s Feed has recommendations for your city from the folks with a true and trustworthy appetence: local, noteworthy chefs. Hurrah. This app is awesome.
Andrew Zimmern of Bizarre Foods said that Home Slice is worth the wait. Thanks, Andrew! http://twitter.com/andrewzimmern
Back in 2009, a couple of us Home Slicers got to tour Austin’s local Live Oak Brewery. This time, a whole group of us got to visit this bona fide, local alcoholic beverage producer.
“I am glad our staff got to see a local business making a quality beer that our patrons love. The guys are always welcoming and we appreciate the time they take to run us though their craft.” –Gabriel Bishop, manager
“As we prepare for a busy summer here at Home Slice, bringing with it a consistent demand for Live Oak Hefeweizen on draft, we thought it was time to head back to our buddy brewery to have a staff field trip over some quality beer and to introduce some new employees to Live Oak’s operation. A tour transpired, beers were enjoyed and we all walked away with a deeper appreciation for all things Live Oak. Thanks for the tour guys!” –Trey Ramirez, manager
American Way magazine’s February issue has a nice write up on the 2011 eating contest from the Carnival O Pizza. 4 time winner Chris Floyd was back to attempt to take back his title from Porkchop Chedsey, but neither went home the champion.
While we weren’t quite sure what to expect from the new and improved one day version of Music by the Slice, any hopes we had were far exceeded by the wonderful reality of last Friday, March 16. It was a lovely day on South Congress and the people turned out in a big way to see some great music and support a great cause. In fact, we are thrilled to announce that we were able to raise over 7k for Urban Roots.
We gotta give props to those who made this shindig happen:
Home Slice staff who volunteered their time for weeks before the event to conceptualize, design, and create the panels that covered the stages (I mean, c’mon, how often does a stage get a shout out in a music review?)
Everyone who chose to come to our party from amongst all the insane number of parties happening at the same time!
And of course the artists themselves who kept the place rocking for nearly 10 hours!
Check out our artist portraits and other photos. Stay tuned for some videos from the party.