When pulling up to the outside of Savelli's Italian restaurant, one could reasonably fear their GPS had led them terribly astray.
It's difficult to believe the highly-patronized restaurant, a Knoxville mainstay for more than 20 years, is truly the dingy, shoebox-sized building located on a desolate stretch of Sutherland Avenue.
After potentially scoring one of the four parking spaces in front of the building or leaving the safekeeping of vehicles to a neighboring abandoned lot, it is with understandable trepidation most newcomers enter the front door.
The slightly dim and dated interior cements Savelli's status as a bonafide "hole in the wall." The atmosphere is an intriguing clash of sensibilities — linen tablecloths paired with cafeteria-like tiled floors and strings of Christmas tree lights. This ambiance, however, works for the family-owned-and-operated joint. After being seated, it is already clear patrons shouldn't expect the cookie-cutter experience of Italian chains along the lines of Carrabba's or Olive Garden.
One of the most notable and shining ways Savelli's delivers anti-corporate charm, in this writer's opinion, is their BYOB policy on wine. At what other Knoxville restaurant could one waltz through the front door cradling a bottle of their favorite wine and not be either asked to leave or charged a hefty corking fee? At Savelli's, supplying your own bottled vintage is encouraged, even, and your server will kindly double as maître d' to help best preserve your chosen libation. Questions regarding the legality of this will be stifled by the sheer novelty of this pleasurable experience.
Saving a few bucks on wine will help you to better justify splurging on the rest of the menu, which straddles the line between moderate and downright pricey. The quality is consistently worth it, however, as Chef and owner Liz Savelli insists on using only the highest quality ingredients, including made-from-scratch sauces.
Appetizers, including their mouthwatering Bruschetta, average $7, and guests operating on a more modest budget can still eat their fill of the majority of entrees, which price under $15. Mama Savelli's Chicken Surprise, tossed with artichoke hearts and sundried tomatoes in a creamy white wine and lemon sauce, comes especially recommended, and the Groper Sub, served with fresh pesto mayonnaise, is a highlight of the sizable subs' list. Made-to-order pizzas and calzones round out the remainder of Savelli's more adorable offerings.
For anyone looking to especially impress a significant other with their menu-selecting savvy, ordering from the "frutti di mare," or seafood, list would be wise. Chef Savelli, a native of Chesapeake Bay, masterfully prepares blue crab meat, pan-seared salmon and jumbo scallops with practiced care. This category promises to cause the most significant damage to one's bank account, especially if ordering from the steeply-priced specials list. Save these market-priced orders for only the most special of occasions, or perhaps the next time the folks come to visit.
Savelli's is as anti-corporate Italian as it gets, complete with scrumptious homemade tiramisu and a broken-English speaking violinist to serenade your table. The next time you're looking for a local restaurant that is truly off the beaten path, check out Savelli's and allow your taste buds to be pleasantly surprised.