Joey's House of Pizza
8113 Moores Lane, 661-0031.
Open Mon.-Sat. 10 a.m.-10 p.m.;
Sun. noon-8 p.m.
The third time I made a complete circle of the vast parking lot in one of the countless strip centers on Moores Lane in Cool Springs, I began to hyperventilate.
Once, twice, three times, I passed Haverty’s and PetSmart and Sofa Connection and Albertson’s and Card Factory Outlet, dodging huge vehicles driven by Williamson County soccer moms, all of them jabbering away on cell phones. Not that Iin my comparatively small and suddenly vulnerable Jeep Cherokeewasn’t talking on a cell phone myself, making desperate calls back to the Scene office, seeking anyone who could tell me where the %#♦&% Joey’s House of Pizza was supposed to be, dammit. Unfortunately, every last one of them was out to lunch, to the coffee cart, to smoke, or to yoga class. So there I was, careening around the terrifying maws of suburbia when I saw an itty-bitty sign listing the tenants in an adjacent mini-strip center: ValuVision, Magic Nails, Athlon Sports, Great Clips, and Joey’s House of Pizza. Ah ha! I dodged a Suburban and an Aerostar and pulled into a parking space in front of the store I thought might be Joey’s. The interior was tiled and painted in bright red, green, and white. On the counter, also visible from the sidewalk, was a model of the Leaning Tower of Pisa.
Inside, the smell of fresh dough, tomato, garlic, basil, and oregano nearly knocked me off my feet. And then, from a customer seated at one of the dozen or so tables for four, the dead giveaway. “Hey, Joey! Pudda anudder slice a peproni in da oven, wudja?” An exterior sign would be helpful, and is surely imminent. But once you step inside Joey’s House of Pizza, there’s no mistaking where you are. Toto, you are not in Brentwood anymore. You have magically crossed into the Yankee side of the Mason-Dixon line and you are in the ’hood. Little Italy, paisan.
There was Bill Gunther at the table, moved to Brentwood from Long Island three years ago, who used to drive almost weekly into Nashville just to get a slice at the House of Pizza in the Arcade. He begged the Macca brothersManny and Joeyto move to Williamson County. There was Ellen Goldberg at the counter, talking to Joey’s wife Chris about hoagies, a lingual landmark if there ever was one. Sure enough, she and her husband Dr. David Goldberg had moved to Brentwood from Philadelphia, the birthplace of the hoagie. She was picking up lunch for herself, David, and Sir Chaucer, their 200-pound English mastiff, who waited patiently in the back of Ellen’s pickup truck for his pepperoni pizza. (I kid you not.) Behind the counter, Chris and Joey Macca work side by side, bantering back and forth in their native Brooklynese:
“Quit tawkin’ ta me while I’m woikin’, wudja?”
“Whatza matta widju?”
“Yer yakkin, itz makin’ me stoopit.”
“That wuzznt me dat madju stoopit. Dat wuz yer mudda.”
“Gidoudaheya. Quit yer yakkin, yer makin’ me crazy.”
“Dat wuzznt me dat...”
Music to my yankee ears.
Manny Macca came to Nashville from Brooklyn in 1984 to be a songwriter. Naturally, he needed a real job, and with plenty of experience on his side, he was hired at a small pizza joint in the Arcade. A couple of years later, his boss offered to sell him the place. Manny called little brudda Joey back in Brooklyn and asked him to come down and help out. The younger Macca and his wife Chris moved down in 1988, the same year the Maccas took over the House of Pizza, probably the first place in Nashville to sell pizza by the slice. I suspect they also introduced the locals to calzone, stromboli, meatball subs, and pepperoni rolls. It worked. Lunchtime in the Arcade always finds a line snaking out the door. Joey laughs when he says, “Manny came here to be a songwriter. Now instead of cuttin’ songs, he’s cuttin’ pizza.”
But does Brentwood want a piece of the pie? So far, so good. Joey’s has been open less than two weeks, but already, the joint is jumpin’ for dinner, and lunch is gaining a steady clientele. Joey and Chris are on a first-name basis with their neighbors in the nearby stores and offices.
The menu at Joey’s is nearly identical to the one downtown. Why mess with a winning formula? Medium and large pizzas are covered with sauce, mozzarella, and your choice of toppings, which sounds like the usual. But the difference between most local pizza and Joey’s is that his dough is made fresh every day, rolled out, and tossed when the order is placed, then topped with homemade pizza sauce. With my own two eyes, I watched Joey make a meatball calzone by placing a few hand-patted meatballs, a mound of creamy ricotta, and a fistful of shredded mozzarella on a puffy circle of dough, pulling it up over the fillings, pinching the edges together, and putting it in the big pizza oven. We sampled a spinach roll made of the same pizza dough wrapped around fresh spinach and ricotta, which oozed delectably out the open ends on every bite.
Marinara sauce is so simple to make and so hard to get right, but the Maccas do it with just the right amount of onion, garlic, and oregano, and by balancing out the acidity of the tomatoes with just the right amount of sweetness. You’ll find it ladled on spaghetti and ziti and layered in the excellent baked lasagna, which adds ground beef, sausage, and cheese. One order of pasta is enough to feed two small children. Chris Macca makes the spinach, artichoke, and broccoli pies every day, sold by the slice for just 95 cents each. The sub sandwiches, however, are a sad reminder you are in the South. Though the sausage and meatball fillings are terrific, the rolls are too soft and airy, leaving much to be desired.
Otherwise, I was blissfully happy at Joey’s House of Pizza. It had the sights, sounds, and smells that I remember growing up among pockets of blue-collar Italian-Americans. As Ellen Goldberg said, picking up her lasagna, calzone, and pizza from the counter, “This is heaven.” That’s amore.