The team behind Nancy’s Hustle has unveiled their next project. Tiny Champions opened for service last weekend at 2617 McKinney St.
Led by its partners, chef Jason Vaughan, beverage specialist Sean Jensen, and pastry chef Julia Doran, the restaurant serves pizza and pasta along with, in Doran’s words,”crunchy and acidic vegetables dishes, small proteins, and some heartier dishes for gluten-free folks or people not wanting something carb-heavy.”
Sure to be controversial is the restaurant’s decision to serve a pizza topped with pineapple.
“We know pineapples are not local,” Doran writes in an email. “But when done right (and I would claim we do it right) they are great on a pizza, especially with speck and fresh jalapeño. And if you don’t like it, we've got other great pizzas to order.”
Indeed they do. Diners will find pies topped with kale and Swiss chard, sausage and peppers, and a cheese-less tomato pie topped with anchovies. A simple pie with mozzarella and parmesan provides a platform for a number of other toppings, including pepperoni, fennel sausage, roasted onions, and mixed olives.
For dessert, Doran has created a selection of different ice creams and sorbets, including a chocolate sorbet sundae with whipped labneh and carrot sherbet topped with toasted meringue and peptias. “Fundamentally, no matter how many meals I’ve had in my life, all I want most of the time is pizza and ice cream,” Doran writes.
Sommelier Bridget Paliwoda (Theodore Rex, The Annie Cafe) and bar manager Tony Lamperti (Two Headed Dog) worked with Jensen to create a beverage program built around natural wines, cider, and cocktails. Three non-alcoholic cocktails, a selection of teas, and a serious root beer provide options for those who choose not to imbibe.
All that eating and drinking takes places in a room that features an open kitchen, an eclectic mix of art, and a banging soundtrack. Tiny Champions will also open its patio this week, which will roughly double its seating capacity and provide space for those concerned about dining indoors.
The trio have assembled a talented front of house team that includes general manager Caitlin Griffith (Rosie Cannonball) and bartender Kristine Nguyen, who returns to the Nancy’s family after working for Cantina Barba. Doran notes the kitchen crew is equally strong, name checking Martin Long as “the baddest dishwasher (aka scrub lord) in the game right now.”
Asked about the culture they’ve created that allows them to attract and keep so much talent, Doran doesn’t mince words.
“We value people as individuals, encourage them to fly whatever flag they want to, and have done a pretty good job weeding out anyone not pulling their weight, has a shitty attitude, or partakes in regressive bro-y kitchen bullshit. Our team is great and better for it,” she writes.
Since it opened in 2017, Nancy’s Hustle has attracted nearly universal praise from critics and diners. It earned a spot on Esquire magazine's "Best Restaurants of the Decade" list, a James Beard Award semifinalist nomination for Vaughan, and just about CultureMap Tastemaker Award it could earn, including pastry chef of the year for Doran.
All that success means Tiny Champions opens with high expectations, but any restaurant willing to serve pineapple on pizza is ready to make a statement.