Here’s a link to a post featuring Nantahala Outdoor Center. It’s a great place for shopping and games for kids and adults.
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!
You don’t have to wreck your diet while on vacation in Gatlinburg. Here are 5 healthy food options that are plentiful and tasty in this popular travel destination.
Before I get started with my reasons for taking a Gatlinburg vacation, let me update you with what I’ve been working on lately. I’ve been doing a lot of freelance writing, so I’ve neglected my blog a little. I’m still confident my writing will take me places, but I need to keep working hard and make the right connections to live my dream. It’s hard knowing you have drag yourself out of bed every day doing things that put food on the table, but don’t inspire you—realizing that it’s taking away from your passion. It’s a constant juggling act of pros and cons, but this is the path that I want to take. Alright, let’s get to my 5 reasons why you should take a Gatlinburg vacation.
1. The Mountains Give You an Indescribable Feeling
A Gatlinburg vacation is a great way to relieve the stress caused by the rigors of your job that have led to burnout status—myself included. The epiphany for us came when we first caught a glimpse of those Smoky Mountains. It was such an awe-inspiring feeling we’ll never forget. However, I don’t think we truly knew of its power until we came back home and immediately went into withdrawal—a feeling we never had with any other vacation. You simply have to go in order to truly realize what this environment does to your mind, which can only be described by myself as a sort of euphoric state of bliss and inspiration combining to form a creative burst that was previously unknown to me.
2. Retail Therapy
Going on a Gatlinburg vacation also conjures up a superficial longing for some retail therapy. With everything Gatlinburg offers to visitors, near or far, it doesn’t take much for these materialistic desires to surface. Shops here range from the unique—try The Village for one—to the downright touristy ones that are the cheap T’s you can find virtually everywhere. They all deserve a place here, and we’ve taken in darn near every single one of them. Some have bemoaned these shops as tacky, but for those people—even the ones who enjoy them too—let me tell you that the Arts and Crafts Community is a lovely loop road filled with dozens of artisans and crafters displaying their one-of-a-kind artwork to the tourist crowd. I envy this collection of artists doing what they love for a living and preaching it to people. It gives us all hope that we’ll hopefully stop wasting our lives to find some enjoyment out of something that can still support us. They’re not preachy in a bad way; they’re just very friendly people that don’t let things bring them down, and this to me is Southern hospitality at the highest degree.
3. The Kids Will Love It Too
While I certainly recommend a Gatlinburg vacation for a couples getaway—it’s an extremely popular wedding destination too—there’s also nothing better than spending a vacation showing the kids a good time. The Ripley’s attractions are fantastic filler activities for when it’s too hot, cold, or rainy—especially the famed Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies. Beautiful days in the Smoky Mountains should really be spent introducing them to the wondrous National Park. There are hundreds of miles of trails for hiking, exploring pioneer log homes, and viewing the spectacular waterfalls that make it nothing short of a nature’s playground. We know first-hand how hard it can be to drag your kids from their technology devices, but in the end, they’ll appreciate it, even if it takes them years and a family of their own to realize it.
4. Great Underrated Food
A Gatlinburg vacation may not be the first place people think about for great food options, but I want you to make a visit here and tell me if it doesn’t surpass at least some of the quality of food you eat in your hometown—for the most part, this is true for us. I’m not even talking about the Southern classics that are sub-par or non-existent in these Northern parts: grits, fried green tomatoes, okra, corn puddin’—that’s right, puddin’. Traditional American fare such as pizza, steak, and chicken are all done superbly in this tourist town. There’s pizza everywhere in my hometown, but most of it don’t hold a candle to the pies we get in Gatlinburg. For us, a Gatlinburg vacation isn’t complete without hitting up our favorite delicious delights.
5. You’ll Want to Come Back…Soon
For all the reasons I’ve just mentioned will assuredly make you want to return for another Gatlinburg vacation. Heck, you may find—us included—that you can’t wait a full year to come back. This is why we’ve taken this magical journey at least twice a year for 4 of the last 5 years, despite us living almost 7 hours away. As of this writing, we’re thinking of a third trip coming up soon if things fall into place. We have so many good memories of this place that have led us to fall into that dream world of moving closer—but not in Gatlinburg. However, we’re not running here without the right job in line and taking a hard look at the pros and cons. If it does happen, it’ll be because of why I do this in my limited spare time, spilling my feeling on paper or the screen and demonstrating my passion for others to see. That, my friends, is real.
Thanks for reading! Feel free to comment your thoughts. I love responding to people who took the time to read my posts!
It’s always exciting to have a day where we can really do some sightseeing—the outdoorsy kind, anyway. I’ll be honest: We aren’t super enthusiastic hikers, although we do like to set aside a day to make it feel like we really are avid nature lovers (our sore legs remind us to ease up a bit). We went on a different adventure this time, even though we feel like there’s not many more we want to challenge ourselves with, due in part to the difficulty of many we haven’t done. Anyway, here are the details from our most recent hiking in the Smoky Mountains day.
Our hike was really a two part adventure that started with us going to the ghost town in the Elkmont Campground area of Daisy Town. What lies here are the abandoned homes of many rich vacationers who stayed here in the Smoky Mountains before it was designated a National Park. Elkmont used to be a logging town and it was when the Little River Lumber Company started selling the land to individuals was the time the Knoxville elite started to move in. You can read about more of the history here, but the National Park Service is still in the process of preserving or tearing down some of the old homes. We went in a few that we could and were amazed that such a place still exists in the Smoky Mountains. I recommend a walk through this area if you’re not familiar with it already.
Next was our planned hike on the Little River Trail to Huskey Branch Falls. When we were researching hikes to tackle, this one appealed to us because it mentioned the river on our left for the entire hike, (it certainly was!) and the fact that it didn’t have steep inclines; although it was long enough for us novice hikers. Being next to a rushing river for the entire morning was an amazing experience as it allowed us to take many photos of the beauty of this area of the Smoky Mountains.
The hiking trail itself wasn’t fraught with a lot of pitfalls and treacherous areas that some easier paths we’ve traveled have contained. We didn’t venture into anything that caused us to take miniature detours, as the trail was fairly wide for most of the way without many twists and turns at all. For a majority of the time we just enjoyed our walk with the boys naturally a good 35-40 yards ahead of us, but with the trail being fairly straight most of the way, we could easily see where they were—because you never know.
The funny thing about our hike was this: we actually passed Huskey Branch Falls without even knowing it. We came to a point in our hike where we passed a boarded footbridge with a little water flowing down the right side and underneath, emptying into the Little River. We thought: “this can’t be it” and kept walking another…oh, about one-third of a mile until we reached the intersection of the Cucumber Gap Trail. That’s when the lightbulb went off, and we said: “That was probably our waterfall.”
So we went back to the waterfall where we didn’t have the best views of it from the trail, but we saw that a careful climb could be done by myself and the boys to get a better view of it. This did provide us with a much better and more accurate representation of the pics we’d seen in our research (As it turned out, not as much research as we needed). So, in the end, I learned that I hadn’t researched the Falls enough, and we got in a little more hiking activity than we had planned, but hey, we had nowhere else to be other than the fact we were getting a bit weary from our walk by the end—which ended up being a solid 5 miles.
That’ll do it for this edition of our June vacation. Stay tuned for at least one more blog post about another memorable summer trip to Gatlinburg and the Smoky Mountains. Thank you for taking time out of your day to read about my experiences, and I’ll see you again soon!