Coletta’s | Memphis BBQ Italian Style in the Elvis Room

Review by: Michael Stern

Italian-American BBQ

Is an Italian-American restaurant in Memphis Roadfood? Yes, for at least two good reasons. The first is BBQ pizza. In a city that loves BBQ-everything, including bologna and spaghetti, BBQ pizza packs cultural imperative. It makes sense to taste-buds. Top a medium-thick crust pie with a glaze of melted mozzarella. Now, forgo Italian sauce and sausage. Instead, crown it with a moist hash of well-sauced barbecued pork. No, the crust is not Neapolitan-elegant. Nor will the barbecue win blue ribbons. But I unequivocally recommend this dish to any adventurous omnivore. It truly is Memphis BBQ Italian Style!

After a recent trip to Coletta’s, Buffetbuster (Cliff Strutz) reported that his waitress suggested a half-and-half pizza. One half was BBQ. The other was Italian meats and veggies. Buffetbuster also ordered a plate of spaghetti with BBQ. It differs from the BBQ-sauced spaghetti that most Memphis BBQ restaurants serve. Instead, Buffetbuster writes, it is “regular spaghetti in a tangy tomato sauce, no sweetness at all, with BBQ sauce-topped pork on one side and mustardy cole slaw on the other. Our waitress informed us that locals mix it all together.”

Sauce That Salad

Coletta’s serves another curious regional specialty, barbecue salad. Adorn an ordinary dinner-house salad (iceberg lettuce, carrot shreds, tomatoes)  with unsauced barbecue. Customers choose their dressing. And dressing makes all the difference. Italian vinaigrette nudges it in the direction of minimally-sauced eastern North Carolina ‘cue. 1000 Islands or Russian is more like a mountain smoke house meal. Ranch brings it close to the Alabama variety of sauce that is based on mayonnaise. Or, forgo salad dressing altogether and get it trimmed with barbecue sauce.

Vintage Memphis

Opened in 1923, Coletta’s claims to be the oldest restaurant in Memphis (as do the Little Tea Shop and the Arcade). It does look like it’s been around a long time. The outside is forlorn. It wants some decorative love. Beyond the front door, however, you won’t find a friendlier, warmer eatery in all of Memphis. Locals consider the centenarian an essential part of the restaurant landscape since grandma’s day. Visitors come for a unique regional treat: Memphis BBQ Italian style.

Coletta’s demands attention from anyone who comes to Memphis on an Elvis pilgrimage. One of its dining rooms, known as the Elvis Room, sports images of The King everywhere you look.

Note: A second Coletta’s is located at 2850 Appling Rd. (901-383-1122)

What To Eat

Barbecue Pizza (small)

Barbecue Salad

Italian Sausage


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