When the Pizza Snob moved to Nashville back in 1998, the launch of a new restaurant was a big deal. If something new and interesting got added to what otherwise might have back then been considered slim pickings, Mrs. Pie and I usually planned a visit right away. Today, in booming Nashville, eating places pop up as quickly as Tim McGraw hits on the country charts. In fact, sometimes the first time we hear about a new place is seeing it on someone’s “best of” list.
Recently, something popped up that I just could not wait for: Nicky’s Coal Fired. A guy from Chicago was bringing coal-fired pizza to Music City, and the Pizza Snob just loves that enticing Brooklyn-bred coal flavor on his pizza as much as some likes a good twangy guitar solo.
Not ones to go out on New Year’s Eve, I made an Open Table reservation (now that’s a first for me at a pizza joint) for Mrs. Pie and I to dine at Nicky’s right at their 5pm opening—time enough for me to be home in bed before the fireworks start.
Unfamiliar with West Nashville’s Nations district, we adventurously made our way to the area between Charlotte Road and the Cumberland River on this seasonally dark and rainy early evening. There we spotted Nicky’s small lit sign at the end of a giant warehouse structure said to formerly house a hosiery plant. Still a bit on the fringes of the current building boom, this was an ambitious undertaking for the Nicky’s owners to locate here. But the way things are going in Music City, this area too will most likely soon be happening.
There’s ample parking right in front, and we worked our way into the large fancy square divided room. We were seated at a table in the smaller front section right across from the star of the show, “Enrico” the gorgeous colorful brick coal-burning oven. There is even a counter where you can dine directly in front of this wonder.
The Snob was starting to get excited about this new home town pizza adventure, and I must have worn out our poor waiter with my questions. To start, I learned that the owner Tony named the place after his brother Nicky, a travelling performer with Cirque du Soleil. I also now know that its good luck to name your oven, and that Enrico was Tony’s grandfather’s name. Also, the waiters were all wearing “Nicky’s” rugby shirts with the number “82” on the back which was the year Nicky was born. One more thing, the room blared classic rock tunes all night which was fine with me.
The first customers to eat on this last day of 2016, we thought we’d split a pizza and then share two pasta dishes. As excepted at a place with a décor as flashy as this, the pizzas were just as flashy. On the menu, the pies were broken down into “Red” and “White” sections (five plus a daily special of each sauce color) and some looked quite overdone in the opinion of this pizza simpleton. One of the day’s special pies sounded downright nasty—it had truffles and a fried egg on it and carried a $28 price tag. We of course went plain choosing Red #1: basil, olive oil and fresh mozzarella ($14 for 13-inches).
Flash-cooked over the coals and delivered quickly to our table, it was love at first sight when our pie arrived. It looked beautiful. The base of rich dark tomato sauce covered a charred crust with some burn marks that told me they were not afraid to cook this baby just right. Each of the small six slices carried a big blotch of cheese and a small basil leaf for good measure.
Picking up my first slice, I was shocked as to how thin it was—no thicker than a piece of cardboard you’d find inside a new shirt. The end crust did swell up a bit more and was just flush full of a spectacular coal flavor. There was a delicious amalgamation of flavors, highlighted by Enrico’s coals and some amazingly fresh mozzarella cheese. To say the least, this pie was infectiously tasty and gone in a matter of minutes.
Our pasta dishes arrived and while delightful, were so embarrassingly small that we were still hungry after finishing. So what’s a hungry couple to do but order another pizza. We did and found it as equally delicious and wonderful as the first one. For desert, the locally-sourced chocolate from Olive & Sinclair made for a wonderful gelato, but that’s for somebody else’s blog to discuss.
So here’s the deal about Nicky’s—it is a fabulous place that every pizza lover should experience. But when it comes down to economics, it’s not a place to run in a grab a quick cheap slice. With certainly no regrets other than the skimpy portions of pasta, it was a pricy evening. But on the other hand, as far as the pizza went, if you look at this as about the size of about three-regular slices, the cost is relatively in line with what you’d pay at Joey’s or Five Points, other than it being so skinny.
My suggestion, stop in early like we did, but sit at the counter and scarf down a pie while admiring Enrico. The Snob must warn that this is a diversion from my standard-bearing New York slice. But, when it comes down to it, Nicky’s pies score high with their quality and taste.
PIZZA SNOB RATING ***** Sets the Standard
Nicky’s Coal Fired
5026 Centennial Blvd. Nashville, TN 37209