Sleight of Hand Pizza
Food & Drink

Sleight of Hand Pizza Tosses World-Champion Pies

A master of wood-fired pizza experiments with octopus, beer and more.

Justin Wadstein, who sells his pies in Santa Cruz and Felton, is a 12-time World Pizza Throwing Champion.

In a YouTube video from 2017, 12-time World Pizza Throwing Champion Justin Wadstein takes the stage at the Pizza Games in Las Vegas and immediately begins to energetically spin a lump of pizza dough into a flying saucer.

A pop song blares as Wadstein throws and catches the dough over and over again, rolling it along his shoulders, tossing it high into the air before it becomes a ring that he catches around his neck. The crowd whoops and applauds. This is just the beginning of a three-minute acrobatic act that concluded with Wadstein earning his 13th title.

Lately, though, Wadstein has stepped away from the competitive ring of dough spinning to pursue his passion for making pizza. At his pop-up Sleight of Hand Pizza, which he co-owns with his wife, Liza, Wadstein’s wood-fired pies are anything but gimmicky.

After spending about a minute and a half in their mobile oven, the pies emerge blistered, deep gold and bubbling. The aroma and texture of the dough is incredible. The thin, chewy crust is riddled with fragrant air pockets and is just structurally sound enough to support the toppings—some traditional, others more creative. While I’m always tempted by a classic Margherita, I loved the Bee’s Knees, topped with crushed tomatoes, fresh mozzarella and pepperoni, a generous amount of red pepper flakes and a drizzle of honey.

Sleight of Hand’s combinations endeavor to be high-quality, seasonal and sourced from local farms. “We’re always tweaking our dough recipe and our menu. We’re trying to go as organic as possible and trying to involve local farms and companies,” says Wadstein. “I like to get as crazy as possible. I just think as big as I can, and my wife is the one to pull it back a little bit. I’ve been making pizza since I was 13, and I’ll be 33 this year. In 20 years, you’ve done everything you can think of, so I like to push the limits a little bit.”

He mentions a pizza with octopus, cherry bomb peppers, mint and preserved lemon he made in Italy, and is working on a watermelon pizza, a sweet waffle cone-like dough, and using beer reductions—all of which sound delicious to me.

Look for Sleight of Hand at the farmers market in Felton on Tuesdays, at Santa Cruz Mountain Brewing on Thursdays, and at breweries, wineries and festivals throughout the area—and watch out for flying saucers.

On Instagram at @sleightofhandpizza. sleightofhandpizza.com.

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Lily Stoicheff is a writer living in Santa Cruz, California, where she mostly spends her time exploring food culture and telling its stories. A fermentation and craft beer enthusiast, her house is overflowing with jars of things that look gross but she swears are delicious. She is the 2017 NEXTie Honoree for Best Writer and a 2017 CNPA Award Winner.

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