CO­LETTA’S TRUE TO TRA­DI­TION

The Commercial Appeal - Go Memphis - - Go Eat - By Jen­nifer Biggs and Peggy Burch

biggs@com­mer­cialap­peal.com burch@com­mer­cialap­peal.com

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.

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.

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.

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

The Ital­ian salad at Co­letta’s.

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