Ever since childhood, the words have been like magic – their sound somehow capable of transforming the mere act of eating pizza together into cause for jubilant anticipation. While for some that excitement may fade with age, we recently gathered with friends to see if we could recreate the magic of the pizza party, grown-up style.
Our efforts got a great boost from Slice Versa, the pizza truck run by Aaron Hill and his wife Emma Luster.
Hill’s passion for food started young. “Some of my earliest memories are learning recipes out of an old Southern Living Cookbook and manning the grill at block parties my parents threw as a kid,” Hill said. He began working in restaurants at 19, and by 2011, at age 20, found his way to Dr. Ho’s Humble Pie. “This job was the catalyst that really kick-started my pizza journey and I’m forever thankful for what they gave me,” said Hill. Working in Dr. Ho’s intimate pre-expansion setting, Hill would make pizzas and serve them straight to guests through an open kitchen window. “The connections I made there, preparing someone’s meal from start to finish and handing it directly to them provided such gratification for me and really fueled me in pursuit of my goal,” said Hill.
After four years at Dr. Ho’s, Hill moved on to Lampo, where he polished his craft from 2014-2019. “I learned the importance of precision and meticulous execution,” said Hill. “There’s an incredible amount of depth in technique and craft, and in ten years I haven’t stopped learning,” said Hill.
In 2019, Hill returned to Dr. Ho’s, where he took a liking to a fellow employee named Emma. “She floored me with her talent and skills in the kitchen,” said Hill. On their first date, they learned that they shared the dream of opening a pizza truck. Five months later, they were married. And in March 2021, Slice Versa was born. “It was definitely a leap of faith,” said Hill of launching a food business during a pandemic. “Our passion, drive and hard work see it through.” Dr. Ho’s chef-owner Michael McCarthy agrees. “Few people understand the fundamentals of pizza as well as Aaron, and Emma is pure sunshine,” said McCarthy. “The two make an awesome couple, and I am sure we can expect amazing things from them as a team.”
Key is their obsessive attention to detail. “From mixing dough, chopping firewood, selecting ingredients, and baking pies, there is no part of the process that we can neglect, or it will fall short of our standards,” said Hill. For the dough, flour quality is vital, and it took more than a year-and-a-half of testing many types before they found just the right locally milled blend from Deep Roots Milling. The dough ferments for 48-72 hours and, because they cook outdoors, requires constant tweaking based on air temperature and humidity.
Like the flour, the white oak and red oak firewood is locally sourced, with a minimum of two years of curing time. With the help of sous chef Lex Zielinski, the team of three splits the wood themselves at home, to a precise length and width for their ovens. Beyond flour, sourcing for other ingredients depends where they can find the best, some imported, but many local, including produce from Emma’s home garden.
Pizza Party, Grown-Up
With much of the hard work already done, actually making the pizzas is the fun part. “Taking something from a ball of dough to baked perfection in mere minutes is magical,” said Hill.
The pizza trailer is decked out with three wood-burning ovens, each of which can reach 850 degrees and crank out a pizza in less than two minutes. This is ideal for a party, allowing a constant stream of pies for hungry guests. Instead of ordering ourselves, our group sampled an array of house favorites, presented one after another, beginning with simpler pies, moving on to more elaborate specials.
First up was the Margherita, a common yardstick for pizzaiolos, with the classic combination of crushed tomato, fresh mozzarella, basil, extra virgin olive oil, and sea salt.Next came the crowd favorite, Spicy Pepperoni, with crushed tomato, aged cheddar, shredded mozzarella, pepperoni, house pickled jalapenos, and chili flakes.
Then, a series of specials, beginning with The Tartessos: crushed tomato, sliced garlic, red onion, beldi olives, wild Italian oregano, chili flakes, and boquerones.Next, The Hot Boy: house made pork sausage, roasted red peppers, red onion, and fresh jalapeños.And, finally, The Full “Speck”trum: sliced garlic, Swiss cheese, gruyere, local apple butter, and Speck, topped with arugula dressed in a maple vinaigrette with parmigiano-reggiano and black pepper.A grown-up pizza party needs beer, and washing it all down was a sixtel of a new IPA from Reason called Exact Sentiments!. With Mosaic, Simcoe, and Columbus hops, it is a classic West Coast IPA bursting with tropical fruit.Thanks to Slice Versa, Reason, beautiful October Virginia weather, and the host, our efforts were a huge success. Something tells me the next time I utter the words “pizza party” to our crowd, the magic will be back. Stay up to date with Slice Versa’s whereabouts on Facebook and Instagram. Or, book your own pizza party here.