Everyone has an opinion on what makes the perfect pizza. Glen and Bridgette Grace are no exception, but after constant tweaks, endless taste testing and relentless research, the Bluffton couple are confident they are cooking the area’s freshest and most delicious pies at Mama G’s Pizza Bistro and Bar.
The Moss Creek restaurant is the fulfillment of a life-long vision for the Graces, who grew up in New Jersey and came to the Lowcountry over a decade ago after a life’s chapter lived in Chicago.
“We have been stewing on this quest for 25 years. Bridgette and our three kids, they were all working at different restaurants and finally, three years ago, we said, ‘Let’s bring this under one roof and build our own restaurant’,” Grace said. “But the only way we were going to do this was by striving to blow people’s minds with our recipes and our service.”
Grace has built a successful trucking company, One2One Transport, after learning the ropes from his father Phil, who spent his entire career building his own trucking business. He is equal parts logistics genius and pizzeria mad scientist. This is his first foray into ownership in the food and beverage world, but his family – including Bridgette, sons Grant and Garrett and daughter Georgia – has picked up plenty of best practices working in the Lowcountry F&B scene.
“The most important part of this was always being authentic. If we were doing this, we were going to create as close as you can get to eating a slice in Naples or Florence,” Grace said. “Real pizza lovers know that the best compliment you can give a pizzaiolo is, ‘Your pizza is so digestible.’ Achieving that ideal balance of taste and digestibility, it became our obsession.”
That first meant importing an Italforni pizza oven and equipping the kitchen with a pair of 60-quart Hobart planetary dough mixers. That meant clean, high-end native Italian ingredients like type 00 Caputo flour, Cento San Marzano tomatoes and Galbani mozzarella blocks (all cheese is shredded fresh on demand each day).
From Boars Head meats to Kalamata and Castelvetrano olives, the restaurant’s walk-in freezer is a master class in top-quality ingredients. Mama G’s interior masterpiece is the three-sided bistro bar with oversized plush leather stools for maximum comfort. The couple found the stools and booths in Queens, N.Y., and the perfect light fixtures in a shop along New York City’s oldest street, The Bowery.
It took eight months beyond their target opening to finally welcome guests in mid-April as Grace and his crew gutted and recrafted the innards of the former home of Claude and Uli’s. The Graces spent the extra time well, locking down one meticulous detail after the next. You won’t find Coke or Pepsi in the fountain. Instead, you get pure cane sugar products from Boylan Bottling Company, a New Jersey institution since 1891.
The focaccia for paninis and the desserts are all house-made. Or try the gelato from Mount Pleasant legend Marion’s, a treat that Grace said was a huge hit during their first-week launch.
“The freshness, the love, we really want that to come through in every offering, whether it’s our amaros or coffees, our salads, our seafoods,” Grace said, brimming with pride. “To see this vision finally end up in folks’ bellies, it is just a blessing from God.”
His immediate family are the staff anchors – including father Phil, who likewise dreamed when he retired to Bluffton of bringing his son and his family here from the Midwest.
“It’s been a long road to get to here, but I can’t express the pride I have seeing Glen and Bridgette live this dream,” said formerly retired Phil, who serves as the utility staffer at open and close with the occasional golf game in between.
Grace brought in a pair of key maestros to help craft the Mama G’s menu. Chef Matt Kazmierczak worked for SERG for a decade at Dockside and WiseGuys and pizzaiolo Rick Abbuhl honed his craft on Tybee Island before coming to the Lowcountry.
The early reviews have been exceptional, with a slew of five-star Google reviews already posted. When we first visited the eatery, we met Michael, a Charleston-based electrician already making his third visit to Mama G’s in the opening week.
“I bring home pizza for my wife and really struggle not to empty that box before I get home,” said Michael, who had a reason for wanting to keep his last name anonymous. “I deliver pizzas at night and I use all my tip money slinging all those inferior pies to come and by the best here at Mama G’s.”
The pizzas come in a regular size, a thicker-crusted rectangular “bar pie” that digests smoother than most so-called thin crust. The large is an 18-inch circular thin crust. I tried both in two first-week visits and can report that as a veteran of a decade-long tour in New York City and travels around the world in search of the perfect pie, this is the best I’ve tasted outside of Naples.
Mama G’s is not offering delivery during their launch phase and is slowly ramping up takeout service, with only 18-inch pies available for pickup for now. Grace said he refuses to participate with Door Dash, Uber Eats or any other delivery service.
“We want to ensure you’re getting the highest quality experience and when I put that in a third party’s hands, I no longer can control the outcome,” he explained.
As was the case with the pushed-back opening, the first weeks have been filled with road bumps and learning experiences – and a wait on custom tabletops to complete the 85-seat buildout.
“They were made wrong to start, so we’ll wait until they’re maximized for comfort,” Grace said. “I’m not one that likes to wait. Our family has become known for making our own breaks. But when it comes to ensuring the best experience for our soon-to-be-regulars, I’m learning a new breed of patience. Bridgette, the kids and I, we worked on these recipes, we brought friends and family in for countless taste tests until we knew we’d found the wow factor that will be our calling card for years to come.”
Tim Wood is a veteran journalist based in Bluffton. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.