You don’t have to travel far to experience Italian culture. Tennessee’s cities are doing a great job in capturing the essence of the beloved country and sharing it with locals and travelers. If you’re yearning for Italian culture, make a trip to these Tennessee cities for delicious food, comfortable hotel rooms, and fun festivals held throughout the year.
Knoxville celebrates Italy through restaurants and an annual festival that showcases a variety of music and cuisine. This hidden gem city will blow you away with its restaurants’ dedication to fresh ingredients, sumptuous hotels and fun events.
Where to stay
Stay in the heart of Knoxville, steps away from Market Square, when you book a stay at theOliver Hotel. This boutique hotel preserves the downtown history, offering modern and spacious rooms to its guests with amenities like plush robes, feather and hypoallergenic pillows, Gilchrist & Soames bath products, and cozy club chairs.
The 17th annual Rossini Festival International Street Fair, hailed as one of the South’s most culturally-alluring festivals, takes place 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. April 14, 2018 and features five outdoor stages with musicians and performers of opera by the Knoxville Opera, ethnic music, gospel and jazz, and ballet, vocal and instrumental ensembles. More than 100 artisans and dozens of food vendors are set up for you to browse as you make your way through downtown, transformed into a European-style pedestrian street mall. More than 500,000 people from the surrounding region come each year to celebrate Italian arts, culture and cuisine.
You don’t have to travel far for seasonal Italian cuisine. Emilia on the historic Market Square in downtown Knoxville serves dishes inspired by the Emilia-Romanga region of Italy. Order the bruschetta to start off your meal or fritto misto – shrimp, market fish, fennel, broccolini with a Calabrian Chile aioli. Pastas are made in-house like the foccacia that comes with ricotta from Knoxville-based Cruze Farm and Georgia olive oil. The custard in the Fior di Latte Panna Cotta also comes from Cruze and comes with coconut macaroons, citrus confitura and Amaro Montenegro. Some dishes are prepared to be vegan, vegetarian and celiac-friendly.
Family recipes passed down through generations are now on the menus at Altruda’s. Start off your soon-to-be delicious meal with vongole al forno (baked clams) and carciofini fritti (fried artichoke hearts). Save room for your main course as lasagna, manicotti, ziti, spaghetti, vitello (veal) marsala and pollo (chicken) Florentine are served up in generous quantities. Top off your meal with spumoni, a cannoli or tartufi – frozen Italian chocolate mousse. All meals are served with the freshest ingredients and desserts are made using fresh cream and butter.
Get an Italian experience without leaving the U.S. Nashville has events and a slew of restaurants dedicated to the authentic tastes of Italy.
Marvel at the Italian and French Renaissance architectural designs in the lobby, veranda and grand staircase during your stay at The Hermitage Hotel. In your room, you’ll enjoy in-mirror TV screens, plush robes, oversized tubs, 600-thread count Frette linens and marble bathroom.
“Rome: City and Empire” is now on display at the Frist Center for the Visual Arts. Featuring more than 200 works from the British Museum, this exhibition brings the ancient Roman Empire to life. Elegant pottery, paintings, jewelry, coins and sculptures tell the story of Rome, which was a powerful entity for more than 500 years.
Music City celebrates the best of Italy each August during the Italian Lights Festival. Four days of music, arts, food and wine are coupled with family-friendly activities. The event is free and takes place at Bicentennial Capitol Mall State Park. Grape stomping, wine tasting events and seminars, a meatball eating contest and the annual bocce ball tournament are favorites among attendees. Dine under the stars with a four-course wine dinner served in the Amphitheater followed by the event’s Main Concert.
Coco’s Italian Market & Restaurant is your destination to not only have a wonderful Italian dinner but to buy the ingredients on-site so you can mimic the meal at home. Coco’s Italian Market features some of the best Italian products you’ll find in Nashville. Savor the cheese manicotti, the Muffaletta sub – rolls are baked in-house – a 16” handmade pizza and top it off with a slice of tiramisu, a scoop of gelato or a cannoli. Coco’s also provides private and small group tours to Italy for you to experience their country first-hand. Trips are being booked now for 2018 and 2019.
The casual New York-style Italian restaurant, Mangia Nashville is a great happy hour or dinner destination when you get a craving for caprese and cannolis, or pasta with meatballs or chicken parmesan. Start your meal off with the due formaggi – mozzarella, prosciutto, ricotta with crostini – then the chicken marcantonio sandwich – chicken breast, melted mozzarella and Pomodoro sauce. Save room for dessert and order the Led Zeppole – three vanilla ricotta donuts with chocolate ganache, sea salt caramel and cannoli cream. A Weekend Italian Feast is offered Friday and Saturday nights by reservation only.
Café Nonna celebrates the recipes inspired by the chef’s grandmother with from-scratch dishes and fresh ingredients. Order bruschetta, Stromboli, calzones, mussels or a Nonna classic: Salmon Rustica, Lasagna Nonna or the Seafood Angelina. You can order your own pasta, choosing the type of pasta, sauce, and toppings you wish. Gluten free options are available as well. For reservations, call the restaurant directly at 615-463-0133.
A seasonally-focused menu at Moto guarantees you’ll have access to the freshest ingredients for your Italian dinner. Order savory dishes like Gnochetti, swordfish, an 8oz Wagyu filet, meatballs, oysters and mussels. Sip on cocktails like the Florence Negroni – Malfy Italian gin, Carpano Antica and Campari, the Bella Luna – Lunazul tequila, strawberry, basil and fresh lime, and the Apricot Rose – Prosecco, apricot and rose liqueur. Enjoy an after dinner cocktail and affogato, gelato or a Meyer lemon budino.
If you want a slice of delicious brick oven-baked pizza, Bella Napoli should be your stop. The dough comes from the family-owned and operated Caputo Mill in Italy; the tomatoes are the fresh San Marzano kind; and the mozzarella di Bufala is imported from Italy while the Fior di Latte is sourced locally. You’ll taste Italy in every slice. If pizza isn’t your craving, nosh on gnocchi, lasagna, Panini sandwiches, and chicken Parmigiano. Then, have the Nutella pizza for dessert.
Chef Michelle Mazza (from restaurant Il Mulino in New York) and Chef Thomas Cook have teamed up to bring exciting Italian fine-dining to Music City with Trattoria il Mulino. Classic cocktails like manhattans, Bellini’s and martinis, and dining options ranging from comfort foods like ravioli and jumbo shrimp francese to elevated dishes like roasted half rack of lamb and veal piccata makes Trattoria il Mulino your go-to restaurant to please all palettes.
Memphis may be considered the city of barbecue with a side of soul and rock n’ roll music, but the city also celebrates Italian cuisine and culture through award-winning restaurants and the annual, must-attend Italian festival.
Featuring Italian Renaissance architecture, The Peabody Hotel Memphis is a trip back in time as soon as you enter the lobby. Whisk away to your spacious room to enjoy On Demand entertainment, bathrobes, large closets, Egyptian cotton sheets, dual-chamber down pillows and more.
What to do
Family-focused fun through food, events, games and music are highlighted at the annual Memphis Italian Festival, taking place May 31-June 2, 2018. It’s a Memphis tradition that has been a summer staple for more than 20 years. Italian cooking classes, arts and crafts, a 5K, events and games for children, grape stomping and the Bocce tournament are just some of the events on the schedule. Tickets are $8 for May 31 and $10 June 1-2. Tickets are $15 after 4 p.m. on June 2. Active military with an ID and kids 10 and under are admitted free.
Andrew Michaelis an Italian restaurant founded by award-winning chefs Andy Ticer and Michael Hudman who both trained at the Italian Culinary Institute in Calabria, Italy. Cozy up with potato gnocchi or Maw Maw’s Ravioli. Enjoy a glass of the Vino Lauria, straight from Sicily and end the night with a sweet finish by ordering the panna cotta with coconut and blueberries or the pistachio olive oil cake with buttermilk gelato, peach and tomato.
The family-owned restaurant, Bari Ristorante features preserved recipes and culture from owner Jason Severs’ family from Capurso, Italy. Dine on rigatoni, linguini, or orzo con Pomodoro e Granchio while sipping on one of the wines from the extensive list, all imported from Italy. You can order pan seared scallops, halibut and tuna as well. Since everything is made to-order, it’s highly recommended to order all your courses except dessert at once. And, because it’s believed every ingredient makes the dish complete, no substitutions or exclusions can be made.
Hog & Hominyis the award-winning restaurant from Ticer and Hudman, featured in a number of publications like Bon Appetit and GQ Magazine. The menu highlights Italian comfort food with a Southern twist. Order the biscuit gnocchi, the red eye pizza featuring pork belly, egg and fontina, catfish or barbecue shrimp and grits. Finish off the meal with gelato or peanut butter pie.
The Italian culture is alive and booming in Tennessee. Book a trip to experience the festivals, food and culture yourself.