The luscious aroma of garlic and melted cheese fills the air. A tall, dark guy with a hairnet is moving deftly about, pulling piping hot pizzas out of a large pizza oven, boxing them up, and sautéeing chicken on the stove. A woman is preparing additional pizzas for the oven with a sprinkling of fresh mozzarella, and another guy takes a constant stream of phone orders.
I'll give you three guesses as to where you are.
You're inside a Valero gas station.
I know, right?
But it's true. That's where Giovanni's Pizza Stand has moved, much to my confusion, as I'd seen multiple photos of their original digs in a little trailer. Fortunately, a Yelp reviewer mentioned that they had moved inside the gas station, so I pushed my doubts aside, circled the gas pumps, and found a place to park the car.
Then I saw this
as I was walking up to the front door, and I knew I'd found the right place.
Stepping inside the Valero is an experience in and of itself. Most of the place looks like a regular old gas station convenience store, complete with Slurpee machine and racks of packaged "baked goods" that could survive a nuclear holocaust. But there is also a surprising selection of wine, and in the back of the store, the Giovanni's crew is camping out.
I asked the owner if Giovanni was his name, and he laughed and said, "Oh, it's a nickname." (had I re-read Jodi Bart's great writeup of Giovanni's before heading down there, I would've remembered that his name is Julio Rangel). Then he explained that he started his first business when he was in his early 20's, so he called it Giovanni's as sort of a play on words (giovane means "young" in Italian). The name stuck.
Out of its modest quarters, Giovanni's is now serving up pizza, pasta, and even breakfast tacos at reasonable prices considering the quality of the food. A medium cheese pizza is just $6; a large is $8, and toppings range from $1-$2 apiece (depending on the topping and the size of your pizza) and include such delights as shrimp, steak, chipotle pesto, basil pesto, roasted eggplant, gorgonzola, artichoke hearts, and portabella mushrooms. Pizza can also be purchased by the slice, and they'll custom top it for you. Pasta dishes run $8 with chicken, $9 with shrimp; oddly enough, the menu doesn't say how much the vegetarian selections cost.
I ordered a shrimp pizza with basil pesto, and it was one of the best pizzas I can ever remember having in Austin - quite possibly the best. The crust was perfect - thin and crispy, yet with a bit of chewiness to it so it wasn't like eating a pizza cracker. The shrimp were tender and not at all rubbery, and Julio had added some fresh basil and olive oil to the top, which made the entire thing wonderfully fragrant. I kept exclaiming, "Damn, this is good!" over and over as I worked my way through my pie.
Best pizza in Austin?
Honestly, I think the quirky factor is part of what makes Giovanni's so delightful. The fact that this wonderful food is being made and served out of such unexpected quarters adds so much to the experience. It just goes to show that you can make anything special with a little love - even a gas station.
Giovanni's Pizza Stand
3010 S. Lamar Blvd
Austin, TX 78704