In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, one saving grace for restaurants trying to cope with fluctuating inside dining restrictions has been what’s become a new staple of the Homer food scene: curbside takeout.
That’s the model of Pizza Underground, Homer’s newest addition to the ever changing, diverse restaurant scene. Owner Ethan Eutsler opened his takeout-only kitchen on Tuesday in the basement of Alice’s Champagne Palace, the iconic bar on Pioneer Avenue.
When you’re a young chef starting a new enterprise during the pandemic, it’s the perfect plan: find a kitchen in an existing establishment and come up with new flavors on an old staple, the 16-inch pizza.
Pizza Underground offers a classic pizza menu with the usual ingredients of cheeses, meats and veggies priced from $17 to $20. Eutsler also offers three signature pizzas: the fiery Augustine with chipotle red sauce, mozzarella, chirozo, bell peppers, fresh serranos and siracha; the G.O.A.T. with arugula, mozzarella, goat cheese and apple, and the Kanaloa, with red sauce, Canadian bacon, pineapple, fresh serranos, coconut passion and fruit crema.
Geared toward the late lunch to late dinner crowd, it’s open 3-10 p.m. Friday through Wednesday. Customers can phone in orders, at 907-299-8801, pay with touchless options or cash, and have pizzas delivered to their car in the Alice’s parking lot.
“We just want to make sure in these trying times as a community we offer these services that will make everybody feel comfortable,” Eutsler said. “… Doing curbside right now makes sense with COVID and everything.”
In his early 20s, Eutsler has already earned his chops at Alice’s, AJ’s Old Town Steakhouse, Fat Olives, The Alibi and The Flats Bistro in Kenai. He started in the industry at age 16 when he convinced his mom to let him wash dishes at the restaurant where she worked. Part of a big family, his mom led an adventurous life, and they lived all over, from South Boston to Idaho to Washington, California and South Dakota. He came to Homer at 18 in 2014 and said he found Homer welcoming, especially when “you come here with the best intentions and put your best foot forward,” he said.
“I’m excited to get rolling and be part of this Homer community a little bit more,” Eutsler said. “… I appreciate Homer and all the help they’ve given me and the connections I’ve made. My model is based around the good food and the good friends I have.”
Mostly recently, Eutsler worked at The Alibi. When owners Nelton and Megan Palma decided to close for the winter, Eutsler was out of a job and trying to figure out a definite direction. A friend of Alice’s manager Josh Tobin, he found out Alice’s had pizza equipment and a prep area in the basement he could use.
“I had the ability to throw (pizza),” he said. “It just came together. … Josh has been such a help with everything.”
Pizza Underground uses a lighter crust closer to that of Finn’s Pizza on the Homer Spit than that of Fat Olives pizza.
“I wanted something light,” Eutsler said. “You could have a couple of slices and not feel like you’re going to fall asleep.”
Not that there’s anything wrong with heavier crust, he said.
“There’s always a place,” he said. “Let me get a meat lover’s thick crust when you want to pack it away, get it into that couch coma.”
Eutsler credited working with Kenny Hines and Quinton Mapes at The Flats with opening his eyes to great food.
“Working with all those people, seeing what they can do with food … I was like, wow, this is where it becomes an art,” Eutsler said.
Cousin Jack Pierre helps Eutsler keep the prep line going. A half hour before opening on Tuesday, they had balls of pizza dough rolled out and weighed, ready to embrace the first rush. Pierre shares a fondness for spicy flavors, like in the Augustine.
“Me and my coworker Jack, one of the things we love is heat,” Eutsler said. “We’re both kind of pepperheads, getting new hot sauches and trying things out.”
As Pizza Underground grows, Eutlser said he hopes to add more styles. It’s one size with no slices to sell, but a basic 16-incher will feed two easily. Because of the arrangement with Alice’s, Pizza Underground is strictly set up for to-go service and not for sale in the bar. Eventually, Eutsler would like to add indoor dining.
“This menu is our first kind of step getting people into what we think is good and what we’d like them to experience,” he said. “I can see this menu growing, adding more signature pizzas and more ingredients.”
For now, Eutsler said he wants people to see Pizza Underground as “something local, something for the people of Homer, a small and hidden little gem.”