Nicky's Coal Fired
One chef blends his Italian-American heritage with the warmth of a coal-fired oven inside a lively, new restaurant in The Nations.
Written By: Erin Byers Murray
Photographers: Emily Dorio
There are subtle nods to chef Tony Galzin’s family all over the new Nicky’s Coal Fired, a restaurant he opened with his wife, Caroline, in The Nations early this year. From the name “Enrico” spelled out in tiles above the massive, two-chamber coal-fired oven (a nod to Tony’s great grandfather) and the family photos on the wall to the restaurant’s namesake (Nick is one of Tony’s three younger brothers), it’s clear that things are personal—and familial—around here.
What to order:
Selection of NCF-made charcuterie, prices vary
Duck Sausage, $12
Baby octopus, $14
Orecchiette nero, $19
NCF fennel sausage pizza, $16
For the Galzins, who moved from Chicago to Nashville in 2012, Nicky’s comes after several years of the couple working for others at spots like Flyte, Rumours Wine Bar, and 51st Kitchen and Bar. They’ve always wanted to run their own restaurant—with their pop-up dinners, Sycamore, they offered a glimpse of what they could accomplish.
“We both feel like this has just been a long time coming,” Caroline says. “We took a lot of steps to get here—we’ve been trying to do this since we moved here.”
Finally, they’ve created an experience that is genuinely theirs. It’s both thoughtful and approachable, with a level of hospitality that makes guests feel right at home. Finding the right space is what got Nicky’s off the ground. Called Stocking 51, the development was once the Belle Meade Hosiery Mill, which sat vacant for decades. “We weren’t looking for a warehouse-like space, and we had other neighborhoods in mind. But, as we were walking through [before construction], as soon as we saw it, we knew this was it,” Tony explains. The lofty space sits in the center of The Nations, a neighborhood the Galzins knew well from their time working at 51st Kitchen.
“It’s just a great neighborhood, with a lot of good potential for growth. Plus, location-wise, I feel like it’s deceptively convenient to a lot of other parts of town,” he adds.
With ample square footage, Tony and Caroline have plenty of room to run things their way. An advocate for whole-animal butchery, scratch-made pasta, and, of course, pizza, cooked in a coal-fired oven, Tony now has all the elbowroom he needs. Meanwhile, in the dining room, Caroline’s domain, there are about 100 seats, plus room for more on the patio.
>>> Entertaining At Home: Recipes from Tony & Caroline Galzin
When designing the space, they kept details of the building’s past intact, like exposed brick walls, an old electrical box, and large, industrial windows. There are modern touches now, too, like pebbled quartz on the bar and pops of color throughout.
But the oven captures the most attention, especially its location—at the heart of the restaurant. Tony selected coal instead of wood or gas as the fuel source for a number of reasons: He was inspired by a few of his favorite spots in Chicago; it sets their restaurant apart from others in town; and coal produces a lower burn “brightness,” meaning the heat can provide even cooking, as well as a toastiness to pizzas and other items.
“The more we’ve worked with it, the more nuances we discover, like getting a nice char on our fish and veggies, or how well it roasts steaks,” Tony says.
You’ll pass Enrico as you head to the bar, where there’s a broad selection of apertifs, such as Cinzano or Alessio, to start a meal at Nicky’s. There are also creative cocktails and a selection of draught beers that includes a few well-heeled Belgian and Italian offerings. Wine is available both on tap and by the bottle; the tap offerings skew American, with the bottles being all-Italian.
As for the menu, pizza certainly takes up most of it, with six options each of red- and white-sauced varieties. But Nicky’s is much more than a pizza joint, as evidenced by the top of the menu, which includes small plates “from the oven,” and house-made pastas, plus a daily selection of both seafood and meat, sourced from Porter Road Butcher.
Start with an order of NCF charcuterie, which is mostly made in house and might include lardo, mortadella, or prosciutto. A selection of cheeses, as well as small plates, like pickled vegetables, go nicely with that—and do not miss an order of the rye sourdough foccacia. Baked in the oven first thing each day, it yields a creamy density and is packed with flavor.
From there, maybe try something “from the oven,” like the duck sausage or baby octopus—each gets its turn in one of Enrico’s heated chambers. Tony is also a master with house-made pastas—try one of the uniquely accented options, like the campanelle, which is mixed with a tannic, red-wine reduction to give it a reddish hue, or the orecchiette nero, which is an almost silky shade of black. These flavors will lighten as the seasons change, Tony adds.
As for the pizza, that’s where Enrico’s work shines. There’s a “leopard spottiness” to the crust—the toasty-beige coloring being a trademark of the coal-fired heat, Tony says. His dough is fermented over several days, resulting in a light, chew-y, and tangy crust. It’s a thin style of pizza, which means the toppings, like pepperoni with red onion or sausage with bitter greens, become the main attractions. From the white pizzas, try the rosemary pesto with potato and pancetta, or clams with kale, garlic, and chilies. Each is enough to split among two or three people.
After so much gluten, dessert should be light, Tony believes. There are house-made gelatos and sorbetos on offer, as well as ice cream-sodas. But our pick would be one of the affogatos. The team worked with Barista Parlor to select just the right espressos, which, when poured over the salted caramel or Olive and Sinclair gelatos, blend into a lively and harmonious bite—and, much like the restaurant itself, either one is entirely worth the wait.
5026 Centennial Blvd; 615-678-4289; nickysnashville.com