They call themselves “Gatlinburg’s Best Kept Secret”, and while that may be true, Taste of Italy really doesn’t deserve to be called a secret after eating here for the very first time. The location is the main reason why it’s a secret, as it’s located in a strip mall facing the Food City on the East Parkway. However, that’s no excuse for tourists not to come out and get themselves a taste of some of their great authentic Italian fare. I’m going to break down my review into different areas of our dining experience with them.
The owners of Taste of Italy are Harold and Geri Mabee, and both are transplants from New York state. Harold hails from upstate and Geri calls Brooklyn home. If anyone has ever eaten here, chances are almost certain that they’ve met one, if not both of them here. They opened this restaurant just 3 years ago, but they spend most of their days here greeting customers and asking them about the food and overall experience. This means quite a lot to visitors, and it shows their love for what they do, and the care that’s put into every dish—and person that walks in their door.
Based on the owners’ attention to their guests, it only makes sense that they hire friendly faces to help take care of them for a wonderful experience. We were taken care of by the manager, Jon Alpaugh, who has years of experience managing restaurants in the area. He was extremely helpful and able to answer any question or concern we had during our visit. I can’t express how important it is to be treated well when visiting a restaurant, as we were disappointed by previous visits to our favorite spots in Gatlinburg on our June trip—which led to trying new spots like this one.
You can’t judge a book by it’s cover. Truer words could not be spoken for a place such as this one. I’d really like to emphasize that the best restaurants don’t always have flair at first glance, and many—like this establishment—are just plain hard to distinguish from any other business from the outside. Well, step inside, and you’ll quickly realize that it’s no hole in the wall. It’s beautifully decorated on the inside with pictures that tastefully represent the authenticity of the food’s origin, and some that capture the celebration of love and the spirit of life so elegantly displayed on canvas. I must also commend the owners and staff for the appearance of cleanliness in the dining area; everything appeared nothing short of flawless, including the nice party area extension of the restaurant that comes with plenty of seating and a large-screen television.
Now we’re getting to the main course of the review. Taste of Italy has quite the extensive menu, and it’s awful difficult trying to decide what to order. Oh, and you might want to bring your appetite—a healthy one.
First off, our appetizer consisted of what’s normally served with most of their entrees—garlic knots and a side salad. I honestly have never even tried Italian dressing in my life, but it’s now my favorite; and I have Harold, the owner, to thank for his unbelievably tasty homemade dressing he prepares. It’s so very creamy with a nice little kick that you get on the back end that’s irresistible. I didn’t ask, but I’m sure he wouldn’t spill his secret recipe. We were told that it’s a customer favorite, and you can count me in! I also love how you don’t get little grape or cherry tomatoes with other salads I’ve had in Gatlinburg; they chop a whole tomato into quarters and pile it on that little salad!
The garlic knots are also freshly-baked daily, and along with the marinara sauce, are probably the best we’ve ever had and stack up quite nicely with another great place in Gatlinburg with homemade bread and marinara. You get six good-sized knots, so think twice before trying to eat them all with your entree.
My wife and I wanted to try their pizza, so we ordered that and their Chicken Parmesan. We loved how well the crust has that garlicky flavor, and it pairs well with the sauce. It ranks highly among some of the best we’ve had in Gatlinburg, but they’ve all been really good, and it’s so hard to rank which one is my absolute favorite (See my ranking of the top previous pizza favorites in a blog post I wrote last year right here). They were very generous with the sauce and cheese on the Chicken Parmesan, and along with a healthy side of spaghetti on the plate, I declared that a winner as well! We’re weren’t quite done yet, even though our stomachs declared we were.
Although we were beyond stuffed at this point, we decided to give dessert a fair shot, since we tried some of the best they had to offer. My wife and I both agreed upon the cannoli, and while I’m not sure what is all in one (cream cheese and ricotta from my research), it was pretty delicious.
All in all, everything was outstanding. From the dedicated and friendly owners, to the wonderful authentic, homemade creations, we will certainly return to this secret place. One thing is for certain: I will do everything I can do to make sure this place stays in business. Gatlinburg is lucky to have a place such as this one serving their many great tourists and locals. Check out the links below for more info, and I’ll see you all next time! Thanks for reading!