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Photograph by Stephen Laufer

The Pizza With No Name

Anonymous slices? Pingpong? Engfer's is making its mark with a touch of the unusual

By Jessica Neuman Beck

What started out as one of the best-kept secrets in Santa Cruz is starting to get some well-deserved public attention. Engfer Pizza Works, a blink-and-you'll-miss-it pizza joint on at 537 Seabright Ave., is finally starting to take off, and owners Katherine McCamant and Liz Engfer couldn't be happier.

"People are talking," says Engfer. "There's someone new in every night."

Engfer and McCamant bought the restaurant four years ago. Neither of them had any experience owning one, but Engfer had always dreamed of running her own pizza place.

"The pizza thing was always stuck in my head," she says. "My first job in college was at a pizza restaurant." McCamant had also worked in a pizzeria as a teenager, and the two pooled their resources to start Engfer's. "We work really well together," Engfer says. "I couldn't have done it by myself."

Engfer Pizza Works occupies the site of what used to be Seabright Wine and Cheese. If you don't remember it, you aren't the only one. "It was kind of an invisible place," says Engfer. "I lived in the area for years and years, and just kind of drove by it."

The location may seem easy to overlook, but the combination of fresh, homemade ingredients and devoted customers has made Engfer Pizza Works a contender in Santa Cruz, where pizzerias are a dime a dozen.

Both the wood-fired oven and the basic recipe for the pizzas came from the old owners of Seabright Wine and Cheese, but Engfer and McCamant have developed the pizzas into something unique.

"We have a vegan pizza," Engfer says. "That's probably our most unusual item. We use an organic tofu spread instead of mozzarella, then you put your red sauce on and then you can have whatever toppings you like. A lot of the people who have been eating vegan for a really long time are really surprised, in a good way, that they can eat pizza again."

That Which Cannot Be Named

Also popular is the No Name pizza, which features a combination of spinach, tomatoes, olives, artichoke hearts, pesto and tomato and feta. "One of the first customers that we had came up with that combination, and they couldn't come up with a name," laughs Engfer. "We had sort of an unofficial naming contest, and that went on so long by that time No Name had stuck."

They also make all the desserts, soups and organic salads on the premises. They use vegetables from Two Small Farms in Watsonville, which is part of the Community Supported Agriculture movement, an alternative to large-scale farming. Tuesday, March 23, from 4 to 6pm, Engfer Pizza Works will be doing a CSA pizza night. "They're going to bring in some of their more groovy vegetables," Engfer says, "so that should be fun."

Engfer hails from a family of entrepreneurs--her grandfather owned Engfer Iron Works and her great-grandfather had Engfer Rug Company in San Jose. The Engfer Pizza Works logo features her grandfather's old flatbed truck, and Engfer and McCamant have tried to make the restaurant's décor reflect the iron-working aspects of Engfer's background. The stools are upholstered in bright red, and they used a lot of metal. The overall effect is both old-school and industrial.

The wood-fired oven is a compelling visual in the main restaurant, but one of Engfer's most popular features is hidden away in a backroom--the pingpong table. "We call it the pingpong room," says Engfer. "I figure eventually we might have to put tables in there, but people are like, 'Don't ever get rid of the pingpong table!'" She laughs. "It takes a beating, but it's still hanging in there."

Engfer and McCamant feel that they get their best advertising through word of mouth. People come into the restaurant and the minute they taste the pizzas, they're hooked. "When they take a bite, they love it," Engfer says. "We've really grown slowly as our customer base has. The word is definitely spreading."

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From the March 17-24, 2004 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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