All-American is a series that looks at beloved, longstanding North Texas eateries and examines their histories while exploring how the food has changed — for the good or bad — over the years.
The Cheez Whiz is drizzled on as a finale. The “pizza slayers,” each wearing a leather holster that cradles a dough cutter and a spherical pizza cutter like gunslingers, ring fresh dough with darkened tomato sauce in concentric circles.
The slayers use the long ladles to spread the sauce around, then add showers of mozzarella cheese. Once a cheese pizza is bubbling, sending an aroma trail of crusty baked dough and cheese around the restaurant like a meteor, they scatter it with shaved rib eye, onions and green peppers. A squeeze bottle drizzles taxi cab-yellow Cheez Whiz over the giant slice in a switchback format. There’s nothing, nothing “authentic” about the new Truck Yard cheesesteak pizza, which doesn’t stop it from being bizarrely delicious. A tank of a hangover would stop dead in its tracks at the sight of this pizza.
“I was skeptical at first,” says a pizza slayer, which is what Greenville Avenue Pizza Company calls its employees, “and I like every pizza we have.” Another slayer mentions that he has eaten the Truck Yard cheesesteak pizza every day for lunch.
So love it or “meh” it, Greenville Avenue Pizza Company is charging forward after crossing the 11-year anniversary. Owner Sammy Mandell is acutely aware of where and when things got started (2007). His pizza joint, which now has a second location, powered through the economic collapse and construction that chewed up Greenville Avenue. Once, he had pizza boxes laid over the ground to simulate a sidewalk. He was in his 20s at the time.
“I had all my money and everything invested in this place,” Mandell says, talking of the first three years of GAPCo. “My car was repoed at one point, I almost lost my house, and basically I ended up saying, 'Screw it, I’m going to work 90 hours a week if that’s what I got to do.' And I did just that.”
For 10 months after opening, he strained away to get his pizzeria off the sidewalk. His mom washed linens, and he and his wife lived off her teacher’s salary. Mandell had never worked in the food industry before — he had owned ATMs on Lower Greenville before noting the need for very-late-night pizza on Greenville — and his brother, a cook, showed him the tricks of the trade.
In 2014, he rebuilt, rebranded — including the “pizza slayer” persona — and renovated the interior to freshen up the place. It hasn’t gone unnoticed: Business is booming, and his second location is smack in the middle of the East Dallas neighborhood where he was raised. A recent issue of Pizza Today features Mandell on the cover, announcing him as the publication's first-ever Young Entrepreneur of the Year.
“I don’t really see franchise,” he says. “I really want to keep this as a local concept. I want to keep it Dallas-based. I love my city.”
Is it authentic to New York or Italian-style pies? No. Hell no. For authentic, Uber over to Cane Rosso for rainstorm-fresh tomato sauce. For New York style, try Zalat’s thin-crust sausage pie, which is best eaten on the street, folded down the center. GAPCo is reliable, satisfying, service counter pizza. It's pizza that needs the parmesan shaker with the bowling ball holes. It’s the kind of place that reminds you of grape soda and Area 51 arcade — even if you never had one of those.
Mandell's team cooks Stanislaus-brand tomatoes down for the sauce and showers on the ubiquitous Grande Cheese to top everything else. Poke on some hot sauce, maybe red pepper flakes and parmesan, and you’re good for a street slice that’s Dallas born and raised.
A supreme meat pizza with Canadian bacon, sausage, bacon and pepperoni will send you back to the '90s. Grease turns your lips into a joker smile, just like it did back then. Hot wings are fine, featuring a spice level that reaches Mad Max: Fury Road level. The meatball sub is an iron submarine for your stomach — it goes down and does not surface until the war is over.
“That stuff doesn’t come in frozen,” Mandell says of his pie ingredients. “Our tomato sauce is very different. It’s kind of a deal or no deal to a lot of people. We cook our sauce.”
Sift through Yelp reviews, and you’ll find the criticism: complaints about the sauce, the dough and crust shape, the size. It’s all there, but GAPCo charges on. On weekend nights, GAPCo is pumping Arcade Fire into the streets and sliding Cheez Whiz slices out to the drink-soaked wanderers of Lower Greenville. It’s how pizza joints live through the hardest times.
Greenville Avenue Pizza Company, 1923 Greenville Ave.