Tucked away on Chambliss Road is a place many Knoxvillians may remember as “Eva’s for Lunch.” The new owner, Misty Mills, has transformed the former shopping and lunch spot into a delightful casual Italian restaurant: Merelli’s.
In an inventive use of the space, Mills has created an intimate outdoor courtyard, a main dining room, and five private dining rooms. Chef Joseph Pereyo has developed a menu suitable for a casual weeknight supper, a business lunch, or a weekend special occasion.
The restaurant’s multiple private dining rooms allow for a variety of events, from an intimate family dinner, board meeting for twelve, or corporate events. One of the private rooms, named The Wine Cellar, seats eight amid the wine racks, while the Venetian Room can accommodate as many as 60 guests.
Contrasting with the more polished feel of the inside dining areas, the walled patio is informal, featuring tacos, pizzas, and build-your-own pastas (all items $9.99). It is pet friendly for lunch and dinner Mondays through Thursdays, with live music Fridays and Saturdays.
The main dining room has been remodeled with high latticed ceilings, the requisite statue (or two) of a Roman goddess, and Old Blue Eyes singing in the background. You wouldn’t be surprised to see a couple of the characters from Goodfellas at the bar.
The staff, starting with veteran hostess Glo Clarish, is enthusiastic, friendly, and knowledgeable.
Chef Joe Pereyo started cooking at age 7, on a Jericho, Long Island, kitchen stool watching his great aunts—one from Ireland, one from Spain—work their magic. The latter taught him a cheesecake recipe he won’t divulge, but if you try it you’ll love the delicate crust and creamy cake. “Whatever I do,” says Pereyo, “I want it to be the best I can do.” He delivers on a varied menu of hearty Italian cuisine, starting with the large PEI mussel appetizer ($12.99) in a white wine garlic sauce with cream butter and green onions. Be sure to ask for extra bread, as you won’t want a drop of the sauce to go to waste.
Calamari ($11.99) comes in a cayenne pepper breading with spicy marinara sauce and just the right amount of heat. The Italian Charcuterie board ($14.99), Fried Ravioli ($10.99), and a fantastic baked portabella mushroom Caprese ($9.99) topped with heirloom tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, pesto, and basalmic glaze round out the starters.
The Gnocci ($21.99), is exceptional—light and tender—in a mushroom and spinach cream sauce topped with walnuts, raisins, and Gorgonzola cheese. An elegant saffron cream sauce complements the Lobster Ravioli ($27.99) and the capers add just the right lemony, briney tang.
No Italian menu is complete without chicken and/or veal, prepared either with Marsala wine or as a lemony Picatta, ($20 or $17) and both are winners on the entrée list. The veal is especially well-prepared and we’d love to talk Chef Joseph into adding a Saltimbocca or Osso Buco to the menu.
For a more classically American dish, you won’t be disappointed in the large Grilled Rib-eye with mashed potatoes at $18.99, or Grilled Lamb Chops at $27.99.
Along with Great Aunt Pereyo’s cheesecake, Merelli’s offers a deconstructed Tiramasu, an irresistible Italian cream cake with raspberry glaze, and two Cannolis filled with a light, sweet cheese. Be sure to save room for dessert.
With several entrees in the $17-$20 range and several pastas from $13 to $18 for beef ravioli, Merelli’s can be as economical a stop as diners wish to make it, but the pricier dishes, notably the Gnocchi and Lobster Ravioli, are a fine value.