If you are ready to hear the most exciting Nashville pizza news I have had in quite some time, sit back and relax while I first begin with a rather long tale of a recent Pizza Snob adventure. I will then tell you how the subject of my story has adapted to these COVID-19 times and then let you on to one of Music City’s best under-the-radar gourmet food news. I will then leave you to speculate along with me about the future of the young remarkable pizza chef I am about to introduce you to.
From time-to-time, the Snob hears from folks who like to make their own pizza. It’s not a path I’ve personally explored, but some of these amateurs have sent me photos of some great-looking stuff. Twice last year, a fellow Nashvillian even went so far as to invite me to join a small Saturday afternoon pizza-making gathering at his home. Sadly, I missed both times since I was back home in the Pizza State.
Well, a few months ago, said fellow send me another invite, this time for the inaugural “pizza pop-up” of GaGa’s Grandma Pies. The man behind GaGa’s, Gregory Gillaspie, would be selling pies for the first time ever, using the Stay Golden coffee shop on Sidco Drive as his base. Normally shuttered on a Saturday night, the shop would be taken over by Greg and his team for the evening. The Snob’s calendar was set for February 1, 2020.
Come said Saturday, Mrs. Pie and I were having movie night at home, and in between features, I planned on making a quick run to pick up a GaGa slice. I figured I’d be back in 45 minutes tops. Well, some two hours later, I would return home with a tale to tell about the truly magical pizza I had just eaten. (In between I did text to let her know that I hadn’t been kidnaped or abducted by a crazed pizza-maker.)
It took a bit of skill to find the Stay Golden location in the commercial area which is quiet and dark on the weekends. When I found the place, I double-checked to make sure it was the right one since in no way did I expect what I saw. Arriving about 20 minutes after the 6pm start time, there were at least 30 people waiting on-line ahead of me.
Curiously keeping to myself, I observed the crowd to be younger and my listening detected that some were connected to the host rather than just pizza fanatics like me. The process was slow but orderly and I saw that they were selling Stay Golden’s adult beverages which I’m sure made things financially worthwhile for the space’s primary tenant. The literature at the door advertised two different slices, “The GaGa” and a “Caprese” at a $4 per slice cost and a “buy three get one free” special. The backside of the advert gave some background about grandma slices as well as this young pizza-maker’s passion.
To help some of you along with this, a Grandma slice is a rectangular slice, thicker than a round New York one, but thinner than a Sicilian square. It’s baked in an oil-coated pan, is light on both cheese and tomato sauce and is dressed with basil and heavy garlic. It’s not something for a Pizza Hut patron, but when made right, it’s a treat for a true pizza lover and any fan of great gourmet food.
My plan was to try one of each slice, but by the time I got to order, disappointedly, the namesake GaGa’s were all taken for, so I instead went with a pair of the Caprese. The two styles were somewhat similar, but like the salad it is named after, the Caprese was topped with tomatoes and balsamic.
While waiting, I got to hear Greg and his team make a classy welcoming speech to everyone, and after ordering, I managed to find a seat that I shared with a young gentleman at a small table in the crowded room.
Shortly thereafter, I learned that fame has its benefits and the master, Greg himself, recognized me as The Pizza Snob. I felt truly privileged to chat with him as well as graciously accepting his offer of bringing me an immediate slice of the sold-out GaGa. (My Caprese followed in due course a bit later.)
When Greg placed the small square GaGa slice in front of me, it was sort of like getting a pony for Christmas. There was simply no way to hide my fascination as I awaited the experience that would follow. My taste buds immediately exploded in delight as I discovered the crispy crunch of the blackened solid crust with its slight salty taste. Then there was the release of flavor from the strong garlic and heavy covering of basil atop the light, but ever-present sauce and cheese. My only moment of disappointment was knowing that I only had a single slice.
Accepting the fact that this wasn’t the typical New York slice that I so dearly love, Greg’s GaGa was as good a slice of pizza as I have ever had. The grandma-making guys in Brooklyn are hereby warned. While the traditional Grandma is the platform from which the GaGa was created, Greg has used his creative culinary skills to make it something special. Whereas the basil is often nothing more than just a garnish, on the GaGa it is as important as any of the other ingredients. Likewise, the strong garlic and olive oil are more than just afterthoughts, but the foundation to the GaGa’s flavor. Oh, and can I say again just how much I loved the crunch of the crust?
When my Caprese eventually followed, the experience was similar, but let’s just say I’m more of a GaGa man! It was tasty indeed, but I’m one for tradition and not much for balsamic, preferring the olive oil lushness of the GaGa. But, eating pizza this hot and fresh out of the oven is hard to beat, no matter which slice it was!
On my way out, I got to spend some time congratulating Greg on his creation, and it was rewarding to hear what a fan he was of this blog. I couldn’t wait for the chance to write about GaGa and see that all my local pizza-loving pals joined be at the next pop-up.
Well, we all know what happened next, and social distancing forced Greg altered the MO for his next pie-making venture a few weeks ago. The news went out on the GaGa Facebook page that the ovens would be a ‘blazing at their “bunker” in East Nashville. Pies could be ordered through Venmo and were available through either safe pickup or by delivery (within a 20-mile radius.). Yours truly jumped right on board and ordered the biggest GaGa they had, knowing that there was plenty of room in my freezer to stock some delicious leftovers for the likely sequester ahead.
The pie arrived on Saturday as promised and was a beautiful work of art and as wonderfully delicious as it was the first time. Even Mrs. Pie got into the act this time as did three of my local pizza pals who also made orders. When we all Zoomed a few days later, it was unanimous that the GaGa pizza was something magical.
As an aside, I do want to make mention of Mrs. Pie’s guidance as to leftover pizza management. Under her advisement, I allowed the remaining pie to sit out to dry for an hour or so before letting it spend its first night in the refrigerator before moving it to the freezer. This worked like a charm since it kept the condensation from icing up on top of the stowed-away slices.
I then followed Greg’s instructions to pre-heat the oven to 500 making sure that the pan was in the oven the entire time to crispen the crust. While the oven was warming up, I used some low heat in the toaster oven to thaw out the frozen slices. They cooked up perfectly and cheered me up some otherwise dismal days.
So, I have allowed this write-up about GaGa to sneak ahead in line of my reviews so that I could put all my Music City friends to be on alert for another possible GaGa Saturday. I know that I am ready for more and don’t you want to be able to say that you had your first GaGa pie before they became the most popular pizza joint in Nashville?
Getting a GaGa is a great safe way to brighten up these tough times. But you need to have some sense of adventure about you since like I say, this ain’t Pizza Hut. But I promise you that it will be one of your finest dining experiences you’ve ever had. True pizza lovers will be gobsmacked!
As for the future of GaGa, I can’t speak for Greg, but I sense that someday he’d like to have a bricks and mortar place in Nashville. If and when he does, I can promise you one thing; they will be lining up at the door every night just like they were that first night at Stay Golden!
Stay safe, be smart and eat good pizza!
PIZZA SNOB RATING ***** Sets the Standard
GaGa’s Grandma Pies