“Life is a combination of magic and pasta.” – Frederico Fellini
I am stating this at the outset: pasta is my favorite food. Nothing comes close. Growing up, spaghetti was the only meal that kept me and my brother quiet at the dinner table. Needless to say, my mother made it often. Whether it’s tomato sauce, cream sauce, oil and garlic, wide noodles, flat noodles, tubes, or Asian varieties such as pho and ramen, restaurant tables throughout East Tennessee are laden with delicious pastas that have us all looking like Lady and the Tramp.
Joe’s Italian Cuisine
If a Sicilian grandma makes it, I’m eating it. Owner and Chef Joe Milanzi prepared for me a multi-generational plate of some of the most sumptuous lasagna I’d ever put into my mouth. Grandma Rebecca’s lasagna is stacked with sheets of pasta, pecorino and mozzarella cheese, meatballs, and a sauce that tastes like Sunday evening at a long family table in Sicily. When all the ingredients of a dish meld together so perfectly that you can’t pick out specific ingredients, you know you’re eating something special. This lasagna is special. Joe’s extensive menu guarantees return visits. And Joe works the room to make everyone feel like family.
Maryville | 1904 West Broadway Avenue | www.joesitaliancuisinetn.com
Be honest, when you read that this was about pasta, did you think about ramen? Once I paired my hot pot with Manchu Ramen—always 10 for $1—in college, I was addicted. Tomo serves several varieties of ramen that can make powdered seasoning packets a thing of distant memory. Pork, chicken, tempura, teriyaki beef, or seafood swim in a rich and creamy soup with heaps of noodles. Satisfying beyond imagination, professionally prepared ramen by owner Patrick Rathida makes one forget about dorm room Cup o’ Noodles. There was so much soup that after I ate all the noodles, I took the rest home and added angel hair pasta for a second day of ramen bliss.
West Hills | 7315 Kingston Pike | www.tomosushisakebartogo.com
Penne For Your Thoughts
I don’t need to tell you that food trucks are everywhere. Penne For Your Thoughts brings you a twist on Italian food that makes you ask, “This is from a food truck?” My meal, Pastalavista Baby, was like a supreme pizza on a bed of penne noodles with sausage, pepperoni, red onions, green peppers, mushrooms and mozzarella, baked to perfection. Droves of pasta lovers follow Penne For Your Thoughts from food truck park to private event to farmers market like zombies. An evolving menu keeps you interested no matter where you encounter this rolling vat of starchy water and durum semolina throughout East Tennessee. Can you trust a pasta truck that also serves waffle fries? Absolutely.
Event calendar found at www.pennetruck.com.
For 33 years, Altruda’s owner Paul Meyer has rarely taken a day off, indicating the level of attention paid to every plate that leaves the kitchen. There are as many “ravi maris”, “chicken mels”, and “spags” delivered to tables by Meyer himself as by servers. That’s why the Linguine and Clams I ate tasted and looked just as incredible as it did when I first devoured it 20 years ago. (This guide is about pasta, but I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the salad and garlic rolls that come with every meal. No other restaurants come close for bread and salad.) While not a “family style” restaurant, my fork did find its way into my wife’s fettuccine with ham and peas. Altruda’s is simply a Knoxville institution where your pasta meal is one of a kind.
Cedar Bluff | 125 North Peters Road | www.altrudas.com
Several former Blackberry Farm chefs have made the Knoxville restaurant scene nationally recognized. Matt Gallaher brought his love for Italian food and his mother’s name to Market Square in a cozy and historic building that lends itself to traditional Italian cooking. I have eaten at Emilia every month it has been open, and it’s rare that I don’t order the Orecchiette with Ragu alla Bolognese. The dense “small ear” pasta is the perfect complement for a meat sauce that’s not heavy-handed like some can be. And if you want one of the most unique pasta meals you have ever had, try the Campanelle con Funghi y Pinoli, which is fancy talk for twisty pasta with mushrooms and pine nuts. Emilia continues to solidify its position as a top Knoxville restaurant.
Downtown | 16 Market Square | www.emiliaknox.com
One of our early stops on this pasta tour was Japan for some Ramen, and we will end in Vietnam with Pho. What’s the difference, you ask? Let’s get the pronunciation out of the way to start. Pho is said like “fuh”, as in fuhgetaboutit. And you can just forget about thinking ramen and pho are the same. Pho is a light rice noodle. Ramen is a wheat noodle. Pho is about as fragrant as any food ever placed in front you. Meat, culantro, onions, lime wedges, and bean sprouts make the olfactory experience like none other. For the adventurous, a mouthful of beef tendon makes pho the fullest culinary experience and may scare the rookie away. Trust me, it may be gelatinous, but it’s delicious. Thank you to server Sophie for suggesting it. Bida Saigon is the number one spot in Knoxville for you to introduce yourself to this amazing soup.
West | 8078 Kingston Pike | www.bidasaigoncafe.com