Picture it: Piraeus, Greece, 1988. A young Nick Gabriel falls in love with an American girl and moves from the port-side suburb of Athens to Florence, South Carolina.
Impassioned with a desire to bring authentic Greek cuisine to the area, Gabriel opens Niko’s and the Dixie Kitchen in Florence. Several years later, Gabriel sells the businesses and in 1998 opens Nick’s House of Pizza Restaurant in West Columbia – where, today, it still thrives.
“My hobby is to make recipes and cook,” Gabriel said. “Some of the items here you won’t find anywhere else. It’s my recipe.”
Two years ago, Gabriel retired, now splitting his time between Columbia and Greece. He turned the business over to his son, Andrew – who has embraced it with the same passion as his father.
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“We named this location ‘Nick’s House of Pizza’ because most houses of pizza are going to have a variety, almost like a diner-style,” Andrew Gabriel said. “A lot of different foods – Mediterranean, pizza, subs, a little bit of everything.”
A prime example is the signature dish: Nick’s chicken over rice.
“It’s our number one dish,” Andrew Gabriel said. “We cut our chicken tenders into tips and marinate them in spices. The same with the onions, peppers and mushrooms. Then we grill them together and use a red sauce for the chicken tips. It’s our signature dish as far as the grill goes. It’s my go-to dish.”
Or try one of their nine strombolis that come in sizes small, large and extra large.
But it’s called a house of pizza for a reason.
“We’re known for our pizza, and we take great pride,” Andrew Gabriel said. “We use the best ingredients to make our pizza. We make our pizza dough every day. We make our own pizza sauce. Our cheese is the best you can get for pizza. I especially enjoy when people from places like New York and New Jersey come in and say this is really good pizza.”
The favored pizza is an “extra house,” which boasts 13 toppings, including pepperoni, sausage, hamburger, ham, bacon, salami, onions, mushrooms, tomatoes, olives ... you get the idea.
“You’re going to get something homemade. You’re not going to get frozen bags of sauce or cheap ingredients. You’re going to get good stuff that we make. We get vegetables from the farmer’s market every week. We make about 45 gallons of meat sauce every week. We make the marinara, we make the bread, we make the lasagna, we make the spanakopita. We make everything here.”
What does the place look like?
Touches of Greece are spread throughout the deceptively large restaurant. From the pictures hanging on the walls to the figurines strategically placed throughout, it’s unmistakably a Greek restaurant.
“It’s where we’re from, and we’re very, very proud of that,” Andrew Gabriel said. “But we also have Gamecock colors on the walls. That was my father’s choice. He said, ‘This is Gamecock country; put garnet on the walls.’ ”
Upon entry, you can veer left to sit at one of the booths, or if the weather’s nice, sit on the covered deck. To the right are a few booths and tables that can be arranged to accommodate large groups.
All-in-all, it feels like a family-style restaurant because, well, it is.
“It’s very comfortable to just sit, talk and eat,” Andrew Gabriel said.
Who eats here?
“We have an extreme amount of regulars,” he added. “Like daily, five- to six-times-a-week regulars. A lot of the people who are now retirees in this area, who started eating here 18 years ago, are still coming in. A lot of people still order the same thing. They don’t even know we have other things on the menu. They don’t look at the menu. They just order.”
Nick’s House of Pizza Restaurant
WHERE: 1082 Sunset Blvd #A, West Columbia
WHEN: 11a.m.-9:30 p.m. Monday-Friday; 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m. Saturday; closed Sunday.
COST: Less than $20