EDITOR'S NOTE: This is one in a series of reviews featuring our staff's favorite places to dine. They are either go-to spots we frequent for good service and conversation, the favorite dishes we order over and over or the one-of-a-kind Chattanooga dives that make us love our Scenic City that much more.
When I'm making a recommendation, it's important to me that the food is not just good, but consistently good. Friends and I have shown up at Il Primo in Riverview when the doors are opening, dropped in late at night after Mocs games and we've sat through 30-minute waits before being seated at the peak of dining hour. But no matter what time of day or how busy it was, Il Primo has never served me a bad meal.
That's why Il Primo is my go-to for recommendations — I feel confident it's got my back.
Il Primo is located in the former Greenlife grocery building at the corner of Hixson Pike andDorchester Road.
The interior is one, large, open space in an L-shape with 82 seats available at either tables, the bar or booths. The open industrial-style ceiling combined with concrete floors bounces sound, so at peak dining hours it can get pretty loud, sometimes making it difficult to hold conversations.
But, to me, that just adds to the atmosphere. Primo is like a great neighborhood bar only with more upscale food; friends run into friends, and the staff recognizes the regulars and welcomes them back each visit.
› Where: Il Primo, 1100 Hixson Pike
› Hours: 4 p.m. bar opens, dinner served 5-9:30 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 5-10 p.m. Friday-Saturday
› Prices: $5-$34
› Alcohol: Yes
› For more information: 423-602-5555
Earlier this year it was announced that a second location, El Primo Cambridge, would open in Ooltewah's Cambridge Square. Owner Nathan Lindley applied for the business license the week of Sept. 3, and staff interviews were held last week, so it shouldn't be too much longer.
Il Primo specializes in American Italian cuisine with a menu ranging from Baked Penne & Four Cheeses ($14) to Corn Risotto & Sea Scallops ($19), and Swordfish & Vegetable Spiedini ( $22) to grilled 8-ounce beef filet ($34).
Seasonal dishes are added each quarter, and the restaurant sources as many products as possible from local farmers.
Although I've tried other dishes, I always come back to the Chicken Marsala. Chicken breasts from Ashley Farms are pounded and tenderized until they truly are fork-tender for this marsala wine-based dish. Chefs deglaze the skillet with marsala wine, which pulls out the natural sugars in the wine and mushrooms for a delicious flavor. Each bite is sweet, but not cloying, leaving a nice aftertaste. I've never found another sauce like it. I swear if it weren't such bad manners, I'd pick that plate up and lick it clean.
A chicken marsala entree, $15, includes one side. Again, I always make the same choice: roasted broccoli. Chopped flowerettes are drizzled in olive oil, seasoned with salt and pepper before roasting, then topped with shaved Parmesan just before serving. Roasted broccoli is one of six sides offered, along with three salad offerings and soup.
I appreciate that the servers are always willing to patiently answer questions about the entrees' Italian titles — usually describing the dish, its ingredients and how it's cooked — since my knowledge of Italian is pretty much limited to what I've picked up watching Food Network.
As many times as I've been, I've never had reason to complain about service. It's prompt and efficient.
Of the variety of restaurants offered in Chattanooga, how many can you name that you've never had a bad meal or a complaint with the service? That's what I thought. That's why, for me, Il Primo is a sure thing.
Contact Susan Pierce at email@example.com or 423-757-6284.