Friday, February 1, 2013
The ambiance and cuisine of Alleia, Tony's Pasta Shop & Trattoria, and Boccoccia Ristorante Italiano
It can be an unwieldy, second-string holiday for both the coupled and uncoupled. We can all concede that much. Its most conspicuous failure is that it isn’t Christmas or Halloween, the perennial favorites. Rather, it’s a greeting card holiday devoted to oft contrived romantic gestures, a holiday that remains a working day no less, and conspicuously excludes the happily and unhappily single alike. It’s the redhearted stepchild of the holidays.
But we can evolve past Valentine Day’s archaic ode to courtly love, and instead of celebrating romance exclusively, we can gather around the table to celebrate love in all it’s myriad forms: friendship, family, community, and, yes, romantic love can still come too.
There’s nothing worth celebrating more than love itself, than selflessness, loyalty and deep, abiding affection, and there is no better way to do it than a meal shared which, unlike the proverbial box of chocolates and red roses, is a timeless moment, a means of real connection. As Virginia Woolf wrote in A Room of One’s Own, “One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well.”
No culture seems to have internalized this quite like the Italians who are at the same time (if we’re to believe the stereotypes at least) a notoriously hot-blooded and amorous people, fiercely loyal to family, and adept at the art of both eating and cooking. Food and love and family are all virtually synonymous, and the art of the meal is in the very marrow of Italian culture. So whether you’d like to have bottomless glasses of Valpolicella with your mates, a family-style dinner at home, rounds of antipasti with a longtime partner, or are planning an evening of shared-spaghetti-strand romance with your new paramour, we’ve found an Italian meal for you and yours this Valentine’s Day. If you’re the dining out sort, we’ve picked three lovely local Italian restaurants: Alleia, Boccaccia and Tony’s Pasta, all of which are in handsome, historic locations and each serve their own take, from rustic to refined, on Italian food.
Located in the old Harrington building on the now revived Main Street, Alleia is the sister restaurant of St. John’s & St. John’s Meeting Place. As Chef Daniel Lindley’s foray into rustic Italian food, the menu incorporates fresh, regional ingredients into dishes alongside high-quality, imported Italian ones, yielding food that reflects both Italy and Tennessee. The heart of the restaurant is a custom wood-burning, hand-cut brick oven that blazes at 750° and yields perfect pizza, the real stuff with a bubbly, crisp and slightly charred crust. The menu boasts seven types of house-made pasta and there is an ever-evolving daily menu that offers a carousel of specials like large pillows of gnocchi with ] fall-apart tender braised lamb shank, tangy zante currants, pine nuts, and the fresh bite of mint which is also, incidentally, perhaps one of the best things you will ever put in your mouth.
If the food were served out of a cardboard box, it would be reason enough to go, but the interior is something to behold and unlike any other place in town. Decorated by Rodney Simmons of Revival Studio, the modern rustic interior is trimmed in the 300-yearold wood taken from the original Harrington building, and features a 32-seat communal table which embodies a new take on Valentine’s Day, one that’s just as much about community, family and friends as it is about lovers. It’s a table for a come one and all Valentine’s Day. But no worries, if you and your significant other want a table tucked away, there’s plenty of that too, and you might just be able to find a dark, cozy corner on the red sofa in the bar.
Learn more about Alleia at alleiarestaurant.com
On any given morning in the Bluff View Art District you might see a baker in a crisp, white coat carrying a tray of freshly baked baguettes up the cobbled hill to the trattoria, Tony’s Pasta, located in the former carriage house of the first mayor of Chattanooga, T. C. Thompson. In addition to artisan bread the bakery also prepares hand-pulled pastas for Tony’s ten different sauces, all from scratch. Many of the restaurant’s ingredients come from the adjacent kitchen garden that produces, among 24 varieties of herbs and vegetables, more than 1,500 pounds of basil per year. That’s a lot of pesto. Tony’s menu doesn’t stop at pasta, with specials offered like a tender veal cutlet pan fried in sage butter, topped with thin slices of prosciutto and provolone, and served over cheese ravioli that’s tossed in a garlic cauliflower sauce with red peppers, red onion and fresh rosemary.
As a long-standing Chattanooga favorite, Tony’s has been the spot of choice for many a first date and anniversary because it also boasts one of the best locations in the city overlooking the river in the heart of the art district. The entire Bluff View area is like a portal to the Old World, with stone walkways, fountains in hidden alleys, sculptures and archways dripping with ivy and flanked by wrought-iron gates. Take an after-dinner walk down the hill from Tony’s and you’ll find yourself in a sculpture garden on a cliff overlooking the Tennessee River, a spot where countless proposals have occurred, no doubt.
Learn more about Tony’s at bluffviewartdistrict.com
Boccaccia isn’t just Italian food, it’s pure Italian, replete with an opinionated, gregarious Italian owner named Luciano. On any given night he might pull a chair up to your table, pour you a glass of wine and before you know it you’ll have spent a few hours and more than a few glasses of wine talking. In a different life he was in the apparel business, but then it dawned on him that he’s Italian and therefore can cook. It was a very solid epiphany, and Boccaccia’s food is refined Italian home cooking at it’s best and has earned him a loyal following of regulars over the years.
Tucked away in the old Saddlery on Broad Street, the renovated industrial interior features exposed brick walls, roughly hewn wooden tables, black and white photos of Luciano’s homeland, strings of globe lights overhead, and plenty of flickering candlelight. A few highlights off the menu (and it’s difficult to choose just a few) are the Orecciette con Salsiccia alla Piemontese (oreccietta pasta with braised Italian sausage, roasted peppers and fresh goat cheese), the Cozze in Guazzetto (mussels steamed in white wine with plenty of lemon, butter and fresh herbs), and the decadent Filetto Rossina (a filet mignon covered with foie gras, a brandy cream sauce and porcini mushrooms). And the fact (and it is a fact) that Boccaccia has the best tiramisu in town can’t go unnoted. In addition to the food the restaurant features a carte dei vini that’s hand picked by Luciano’s wife, Alana, the resident expert oenophile. It is, in short, a restaurant with authentic food and soul that you’ll walk away from feeling like family.
Learn more at boccacciarestaurant.com