Dining Review: Coletta's true to tradition

The central dining room at Coletta's South Parkway location. The  Coletta family first began serving Italian food in Memphis in 1923.

Photo by Mike Maple, Mike Maple/The Commercial Appeal // Buy this photo

The central dining room at Coletta's South Parkway location. The Coletta family first began serving Italian food in Memphis in 1923.

Dining reviewers Jennifer Biggs and Peggy Burch visit a long-established local restaurant once a month or so, and write about it. If you've got an old favorite you think we should try, e-mail us.

Jennifer Biggs: OK, so I'm no fan of barbecue pizza. I still think it's cool that it was invented at Coletta's, that Elvis loved it, and that you can eat it sitting right under his pictures, or even his final ambulance transport ticket, if that's what appeals to you. I'm talking about the South Parkway location, of course.

The central dining room at Coletta's South Parkway location. The  Coletta family first began serving Italian food in Memphis in 1923.

Photo by Mike Maple, Mike Maple/The Commercial Appeal

The central dining room at Coletta's South Parkway location. The Coletta family first began serving Italian food in Memphis in 1923.

David Newby takes an Original Barbecue Pizza from the oven.

David Newby takes an Original Barbecue Pizza from the oven.

One room at Coletta's is devoted to  the restaurant's famous former customer,   Elvis.

One room at Coletta's is devoted to the restaurant's famous former customer, Elvis.

The Italian salad at Coletta's.

The Italian salad at Coletta's.

Peggy Burch: If you're a Coletta's fan, South Parkway is THE location. I'm baffled that you can find anything to dislike about large chunks of chopped barbecue pork on a pizza crust, topped with tomato gravy. Not only is it unobjectionable, it tastes good. That six-inch pizza I had with a salad was not too little and not too much for lunch.

I think the Elvis room is the place to be in the daytime, and the grotto-esque room at the back, with the statues in wall niches and faux columns, is better at night. Or the bar with the bright red leatherette trimmings.

JB: Sorry, but no one is going to convince me that pork, barbecue sauce and cheese go together. I love me some cheese, but I would never ask for it on my barbecue! We'll never see this the same way, but I'm with you on your declaration of South Parkway offering the authentic Coletta's experience -- now that Summer is long gone, anyway.

I want to make note that several of our oldest restaurants in town are Italian. There's Pete and Sam's, Dino's, the variety of Grisanti locations over the years, and of course, Coletta's. I believe that people, including me, like the atmosphere of these places as much as the food.

The bar at Coletta's is fabulous -- makes me want to order a Tom Collins or something like it. And the food is good. Simple, but isn't that what we want from the tried and trues?

The Italian spinach at Coletta's is as good as any you'll find. While it's clearly got enough fat in it to make it taste good, it's not a heavy, creamy version. The spinach is soft and delicate, but holds the garlic, egg and Parmesan. Unfortunately, the egg was scrambled in the serving we had at lunch, which is a common problem but one so easily avoided by either tempering the egg before adding it to the hot spinach or letting the spinach cool a bit. Nonetheless, the flavor is superb.

PB: The other Italian restaurant with atmosphere to compete with its food was the old Giovanni's on Cleveland. Gone but not forgotten.

Ultimately, Pete & Sam's sets the Memphis Italian spinach standard for me. I was a little surprised by the curdled egg in my Coletta's spinach -- if you hadn't identified it for me, I might have thought they had put cottage cheese in the dish. But I agree with you, it was tasty. For me the best part of the dishes we tried at lunch this week was the very spicy sausage. I didn't order it, but it tasted mighty fine on your spaghetti. Right?

JB: The sausage was nice and spicy, and it was good with the spaghetti but even better, I thought, with the lasagna. The tomato sauce, as is often the case in the old-fashioned Italian restaurants (but not always -- definitely not always) tends to the sweet side, and the sausage certainly gave it the spicy boost I crave in just about everything. But the lasagna also had the creamy element, and I think the sausage was right on target with it. I definitely recommend you order the sausage with the lasagna; my next order from Coletta's will be the lunch special with the little pizza topped with the sausage and jalapenos.

PB: If I hadn't been determined to order The Original Barbecue Pizza (or determined to make you try once again to understand this important Memphis novelty dish), I would have gotten the sausage and jalapeno pizza. Next time for me, as well. And while I'm a thin-crust person, I think if you're going to have tomato sauce that is almost as dense as ketchup, the thick and bready crust at Coletta's is a good match for it.

JB: Sigh. Now I'm missing Coletta's on Summer. I used to love to go there for pizza and the homemade sangria (honestly, I didn't know there was one on South Parkway for years). I do think it's important to point out again that going to the Coletta's on Appling is not the same as going to the original. I just took a look at the menus online (colettas.net), which differ pretty dramatically, and saw that the sangria at Appling comes with a scoop of raspberry sherbet in it. I promise, I never had that at the Summer location.

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Coletta's

Food:

Service:

Atmosphere:

Address: 1063 South Parkway E.

Telephone: (901) 948-7652

Hours: Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m.-10 p.m.; Friday, 11 a.m.-11 p.m.; Saturday, noon-11 p.m.; Sunday, 4-10 p.m.

Reviewer's choices: Lasagna ($9.95); Sausage ($1.50); Italian spinach ($6.75); Original Barbecue Pizza.

Star Ratings

Poor: Zero stars

Good: One star

Very Good: Two stars

Excellent: Three stars

Extraordinary: Four stars

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