It may seem odd to list an Italian-American restaurant in Memphis, Tennessee, as Roadfood, but there are at least two good reasons Coletta’s belongs. The first is barbecue pizza. In a city that loves barbecue-everything, including bologna and spaghetti, barbecue pizza has emphatic cultural imperative. And it makes taste-buds sense. A medium-thick crust pie with a glaze of melted mozzarella is topped not with Italian sauce and sausage or pepperoni, but with a moist hash of barbecued pork in zesty cinnabar pit sauce. No, the crust is not Neapolitan-elegant; nor is the barbecue going to win any blue ribbons; but this is a dish I’d recommend without equivocation to any adventurous omnivore.
Coletta’s also serves that other regional specialty, barbecue salad, which is like any ordinary dinner-house salad (iceberg lettuce, carrot shreds, tomatoes) but adorned with unsauced barbecue – the same savory pork as on the pizza. Dressing is the customer’s choice, and it makes all the difference. Italian vinaigrette nudges it in the direction of minimally-sauced eastern North Carolina ‘cue; 1000 Island or Russian is more like a mountain smoke house meal; ranch brings it close to that strange Alabama variety of sauce that is based on mayonnaise. Or, you can forgo salad dressing altogether and have it trimmed with barbecue sauce.
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 and could use some decorative love. In the door, however, there isn’t a friendlier, warmer eatery in all of Memphis. Its staff of good ol’ girls are eager to help strangers as well as legions of regular customers for whom it has been a reliable source of good eats since grandma’s day.
Note: A second Coletta’s is located at 2850 Appling Rd. (901-383-1122)