Emmy Squared’s reputation reached Tennessee long before the owners decided to open a third location in Nashville last March. The Detroit-style pizza joint is the second concept under parent brand Pizza Loves Emily by Emily and Matt Hyland, whose restaurants are famed for pizzas of the round and square varieties. Born in Brooklyn, the first concept is a neighborhood pizzeria specializing in round, thin-crusted pies perfected in a wood-fired oven. The duo expanded their empire with Emmy Squared’s opening in Williamsburg in 2016, two years after the opening of Emily’s flagship spot in Clinton Hill.
Emmy Squared stands out in a sea of New York pizzerias, thanks in large part to the square pies. In true Detroit pizza-making fashion, a Sicilian-style dough is directly coated with a generous layer of cheese, creating a crunchy, chewy, crispy crust. Staying true to his New York roots, Chef Matt Hyland chose a New York-style tomato sauce to round out the recipe. After nailing the concept for years in New York, Emmy Squared headed down South, to Nashville.
“Before opening my first restaurant in New York, I considered Nashville,” Matt tells Eater from New York. “Although I ultimately decided to stay in New York, Nashville started to make sense. With family there and new partners with restaurants in Nashville, it was a no brainer.” Emmy Squared began calling Nashville home last year when the import restaurant opened in the bustling Gulch neighborhood with just barely 60 seats. Matt and the Nashville team were quick to embrace the local community — and vice versa.
“Nashville is a smaller market, and I intentionally spent more time there before opening, trying to meet as many people as I could. Coming into a new market as New Yorkers is tough. You have to remind people that we are not just here to make a quick buck, we want to be part of the neighborhood and the food scene. We care about the food and the community, so we put in extra effort.”
Chef Graydon Atchley has boots on the ground in the Gulch and brings an added touch of local, being a born-and-raised Nashvillian. His use of ingredients showcases the brand’s commitment to contributing to Nashville’s food culture, while still staying true to the NYC concept and original recipes. As locals, you’ll be quick to notice the names of local butchers and farms — Porter Road Butcher, Bear Creek Farms, Benton’s bacon, and Kenny’s included, whose products add complexity to the flavorful dishes. “When we started looking local, Porter Road Butcher stood out,” Atchley explains. Their chorizo and Italian sausage are used to enhance the flavor profiles of the hatchback, deluxe and margarita pies. Benton’s bacon has been used in New York and continues to have its place on the menu in Nashville as a topping on pizzas and waffle fries (alongside other notably Southern toppings such as hatch chili pimento cheese and ranch).
The local flavor is turned up a notch in the hot chicken pizza. Although the pie is only occasionally available as a special, a more permanent return is hopefully imminent. “Being from Nashville, one thing I noticed about hot chicken is that is has a lot of heat, but not a lot of flavor,” Atchley shares his two cents. The Emmy Squared hot chicken recipe started with a spice rub Hyland had on hand, and Graydon tweaked it by adding cayenne and cumin. The pie is loaded with flavorful hot chicken and gussied up with bread and butter pickles and a drizzle of Alabama white sauce. Matt was so pleased with the final product that he promises an appearance of the pie on the menus in New York, as well.
“Nashville has a lot of fun, local ingredients and different seasons. Anything that happens in New York happens in Nashville, first. Most of my testing for all locations happens in Nashville. We play around and test out dishes to see how the city likes it. People in Nashville have an open mind — we are making pizza and burgers, so its nothing too exotic, even if the toppings seem unusual.”
The pies remain the most popular among diners but are easily rivaled by the award-winning burger, aptly named Le Big Matt. The $19 burger promises a double-stack of Bear Creek Farms grass-fed beef patties, American cheese, greens, pickles, Sammy Sauce on a pretzel bun with a side waffle fries. Sticker shock aside, the burger brings no complaints. “We use high-quality ingredients and make it as perfect as possible every time,” Hyland says, standing behind the price tag. “We are proud of our burgers, and it is a big accomplishment to come into town and be named best burger. Not everyone wants to pay $19, but if they choose to, they will be very happy.”
While the passion for pizza is undeniable, that is not where the menu begins nor ends. It’s easy to slide into one of the restaurant’s 60 seats and experience how this New York pizzeria has quickly made a home in Nashville, and why Eater Nashville named Emmy Squared Restaurant Import of the Year in 2018’s Eater Awards.