Tandy Wilson grew up in Nashville, went to culinary school and worked in Northern California, studying Mediterranean cooking, before exploring Italy’s cuisine and culture for an immersive education. He returned to his hometown, opening City House, in the Germantown section of Nashville in 2008. His wood-fired pies are unique, mainly due to what Wilson puts on top of them.
Tony Galzin is a proud South Sider from Chicago. His wife hails from Alabama, but the two met while working at mk restaurant in Chicago. Tony worked pastry, Caroline in the front of the house. The two fell hard for each other, as well as the coal fired pies at D’Amato’s and Coalfire in West Town, just a few blocks apart. When they moved to Nashville in 2013, they started looking for their own place. By 2016, they had opened Nicky’s Coal Fired, a restaurant featuring a large coal-fired oven, where they bake a lot more than just pizzas.
Michael Hanna has worked in the restaurant industry for several years, mostly in Memphis and Nashville. He has tapped into his Sicilian heritage and created a pizza that deserves a lot more recognition than it’s getting. He rents a space in the basement of a food hall in East Nashville, selling his St. Vito Focacciaria pizzas out the side door. If you haven’t tried it yet, you really should.
Patti Tubbs literally grew up in the pizza business. Her grandfather started Italian Fiesta Pizzeria on the city’s far South Side in the 1940s, and the recipe hasn’t changed a bit. A young Michelle Obama (nee Robinson) grew up on the pizza, and turned her family onto it while they lived in Hyde Park. Patti talks with Steve about her family’s history, then makes him a sausage-giardiniera pie.
Nella Grassano grew up in Naples, and pizza has been in her family for decades. She wound up settling in Chicago (where she met her husband) and has worked in some of the city’s finest Neapolitan pizza shops. Her namesake – Nella Pizza e Pasta – has been in Hyde Park for several years now, on the campus of the University of Chicago.
We’re taking a long look back at 2020, a year we’d just as soon like to forget. But these four interviews were unforgettable – full of insight, advice and history. We talk with pizza writer Arthur Bovino (@nycbestpizza) about how he goes about covering his beat; John Arena discusses the finer points of Sicilian from Las Vegas; the CEO of Home Run Inn talks about the company’s origins and World Pizza Champion Tony Gemignani discusses his competitive streak and an almost obsessive focus on recreating the nation’s various styles of pizza all under one roof.
Thom and James Elliot fell hard for Neapolitan pizza, and decided to buy a small van and drive through Italy, discovering and learning all they could about pizza making. The result is “Pizza” a new book about their adventures, which include a few cities in the U.S. They now have 14 locations of their Pizza Pilgrims brand in the U.K., where you can even get pizza making kits for home (if you live in London).
Chefs Nick Krunkkala and Caroline Zeller are the driving force behind Oysterhead Pizza Co., a tiny shop perched above the flowing Damariscotta River, about an hour-and-a-half north of Portland. This vacation town now has a serious pizzeria, where the dough is thoughtfully made and the wood-fired (rotating) deck oven burns a bit lower than your typical Neapolitan joint, producing chewy-crunchy pies. Also, Nick is a whiz with naming his pizzas.
Noah Sandoval has to be the only two-star Michelin chef currently making pizza. His fine dining restaurant – Oriole – was taking a break during the pandemic, so he and his business partners came up with a new take on Sicilian pizza, previously unseen in Chicago. With complete humility, he reached out to an expert in Las Vegas for guidance. The result? Pizza Friendly Pizza in the Ukrainian Village/Humboldt Park neighborhood.
Mike Keon and his business partner, Anthony Allen, founded Otto Pizza in 2009 in Portland, Maine. Over the past decade, they’ve expanded in New England, due in part to their creative take on toppings – including bacon, mashed potatoes and scallions, among others. Steve spoke with Mike just a few yards from the original store in downtown Portland.