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Photograph by Brian Harker
FLAMES OF DESIRE: You know you want this Engfer's pie.

The Engfer Experience

Pizza for the people, served hot and delicious in a boisterously blue collar setting

By Christina Waters

WITH Pilsner-Urquell and Fat Tire Ale on tap, wood fires burning in the free-standing oven and ping-pong in the side room, Engfer Pizza Works is a place to kick back and savor yet another reason why we live in Santa Cruz.

The old black and white photos on the wall document Grandpa Engfer's metalworking heyday, reflecting a hands-on attitude that has somehow been transplanted into the neighborhood roadhouse lovingly created by Liz and Katherine Engfer. Where else is your order customized by friendly folks into something you might have cooked up for yourself, or the pizza brought to your table by the guy who just made it? Under a trio of neon beer signs, and backed by an entire wall of bottled microbrews, sodas, Old Rasputin Russian Imperial Stout, Red Bull and wines, we settled into a cozy hour at Engfer, where well-made pizza rules.

At the counter we sang along with the Beatles and surveyed the blackboard. The cavernous hall is lit by lofty fluorescent lights reminiscent of no-frills cafes in Athens, Cairo or Fremont. Among the infinite possibilities, the "No-Name" pizza—a 10-inch pie topped with pesto, tomatoes, spinach, olives, artichoke hearts and a smattering of tart feta for $14.25—captured our attention. It was a decision we would not regret, though I must admit it was tough even thinking about protein while gazing at Engfer's house-made cakes. Double chocolate layers competed for my affections with a slab—and I do mean a "slab"—of something playfully named the "Ho-Ho Cake," a chocolate mocha confection topped with vanilla icing. Exactly what I fantasized about as a kid ($4).

More tempting possibilities caught our eyes. Here's a neighborhood pizza parlor that not only carries locally made wines by the bottle—David Bruce, Silver Mountain, Burrell School, Thomas Fogarty—but also half bottles perfect for two to share with in-house pizzas. So it was "yes" to a split of Bonny Doon Vineyard's Le Pousseur 2005 ($12), plus a small organic green salad, lightly dressed to order, the pizza, the generous slice of cake and a sparkling Calistoga—all for $37.

We joined the Seabright neighbors—the four-tops, the date-nighters, the single dads with kids and the college gals—at the simple tables with their brushed aluminum chairs and institutional tableware. The syrah arrived with proper stemware, I'm happy to say, and we toasted the former ironworks and our waitress' flame-embossed apron. Van Morrison was putting the finishing touches on "Brown-Eyed Girl" when we tore into our delicious salad of mixed organic greens with light balsamic and flecks of feta. The pizzaiolo himself brought round the pie, steaming with moist, oozy toppings and distinguished by a thin, utterly delicious crust. Pizza and red wine. Ping-pong. Rock & roll.

Dining simply tastes pretty satisfying at Engfer's. And at this rate, you can't afford not to go out to eat, talk and have fun with your friends. Can you say "recession-proof neighborhood treasure?" Engfer!

Engfer Pizza Works

537 Seabright Ave., Santa Cruz

Open Tue–Sun, 4–9:30pm


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