Grub Scout: Giovanni's in Maryville boasts primo pasta, more

Giovanni's Italian Restaurant

Maryville

331 Whitecrest Drive, Suite No. 4

865-980-5656

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Critic's star breakdown

  • Food: 4 stars (out of five)
  • Service: 3.5
  • Atmosphere: 3.5
  • Overall: 4

Several of my Blount County peeps had recommended Giovanni's Italian Restaurant in Maryville, suggesting that it was one of those best-kept-secret sort of things.

Often, such secrets are kept because a restaurant has a poor location, which is true of Giovanni's. The Grub Spouse and I found it in a non-descript commercial building, next door to a bowling alley, on a side street off the U.S. 129 bypass, just across the Maryville-Alcoa border. The curb appeal is minimal.

Inside, however, the charm starts to take effect fairly quickly. The tables in this modestly sized dining room welcome guests with silverware rolled in cloth napkins and menus already in place. Photos of famous Italians cover the walls.

Patrons may seat themselves, although it took us a few moments to figure that out. The two ladies working the floor — one of whom was an owner — had their hands full servicing quite a good turnout for a weeknight. One down side of self-seating, as I discovered, was that a party arriving after we did was actually waited on first, which is a huge restaurant pet peeve of mine.

The Spouse and I forged ahead by absorbing the extensive and tempting menu. Salads include Greek and chicken Hawaiian, and starters include steamed clams and toasted ravioli. However, they kept the complimentary homemade garlic breadsticks coming early on, so The Spouse and I passed on an appetizer.

Sandwich fans will find the likes of a chicken Philly as well as Parmesan recipes made with Italian sausage, chicken, veal and eggplant. And as much as I love pizza, I regretfully decided to pass on their 16 different varieties of Italian pie, not to mention calzones and strombolis made with tons of available toppings.

One section of the menu is devoted to old-school pasta dishes with diner's choice of spaghetti, penne rigate, angel hair or fettucine served with one of nearly two dozen sauces created in Giovanni's kitchen. Toppings range from traditional marinara and meatballs to crab Alfredo, carbonara and penne alla vodka.

The Spouse selected the lasagna chicken Alfredo from Giovanni's section of baked classics, which also features four-cheese ziti, cannelloni and spinach ravioli, to mention just a few.

I ordered from the house specialties, which are served after 5 p.m. only. Selections include chicken marsala and piccata, mussels marinara, shrimp scampi and eggplant aurora. I chose the veal Rockefeller, which is prepared by cooking the veal in wine sauce and topping it with thin slices of ham and cheese.

Our orders took longer than we expected, arriving even after the orders of patrons who were seated after we were. However, we were very pleased with the quality of the food. The three veal cutlets were outstanding as were the complement dishes of pasta in homemade tomato sauce and Caesar salad. The Spouse's lasagna boasted a superbly rich Alfredo sauce that was quite filling.

We barely saved room for a homemade cupcake and a slice of Italian cheesecake, which was appropriately lower in the sweetness quotient but nicely accented by strawberry glaze.

I was disappointed in the service that night, although I think the large turnout had an impact on that. And I was a little put off by both servers' occasional stifled coughing and wheezing. But that doesn't deter me from saying that Giovanni's chefs are certainly not hacks.

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