Food & Drink » Food & Wine

Pizza is King at Coletta’s

Pizza is the restaurant's most popular dish during quarantine.

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COLETTA'S ITALIAN RESTAURANT/FACEBOOK
  • Coletta's Italian Restaurant/Facebook
What’s the best seller at Coletta’s restaurants during the quarantine?

“That’s very easy,” says owner Jerry Coletta. “Pizza, pizza, pizza.”

But their famous barbecue pizza — the logical choice — isn’t No. 1. Round the World, which has everything on it, is No. 1, followed by the All Meat, which has sausage and beef, pepperoni, and Canadian bacon, Coletta says. Their barbecue pizza is No. 3.

Coletta’s, which has been doing takeout, recently reopened its dining rooms with limited seating at both of its locations.



I asked Coletta about the history of the pizzas. “When Pizza Hut started advertising ‘Meat Lovers Pizza,’ we started getting deluged with orders for Meat Lover’s Pizza. So, we call it ‘All Meat.’ It’s really a Meat Lover’s Pizza.” That’s been 15 or 20 years ago, Coletta says. Round the World is much older. “My dad came up with that back in the ’50s.”

Coletta’s is a pizza pioneer in Memphis. “Back in the early ‘50s we had sailors coming in from the Navy base when they had the Navy base in Millington. They had had pizza in New York and Chicago and they were asking my dad why he didn’t put pizza on our menu. Of course, he didn’t know anything about pizza, but he actually went to Chicago to learn how to make pizzas.

“When he came back, he put pizza on the menu, but it wasn’t going over too well ‘cause it was a new type of food. People didn’t know what it was. Then he came up with the idea of the barbecue pizza. Of course, in Memphis everyone knows barbecue, and it sparked an interest in pizza. Barbecue pizza remains our signature item today.”

And that was Elvis’ favorite, Coletta says. The King dined on barbecue pizza at Coletta’s on South Parkway. Priscilla Presley, who likes Coletta’s lasagna and spaghetti and meatballs, used to pick up barbecue pizzas to-go.

The old Coletta’s on Summer was one of my go-to date-night places for dinner, but that restaurant burned a while back and didn’t reopen. Coletta’s has a location on Appling Road, but my all-time favorite is the restaurant on South Parkway. That was the original location of Coletta’s.

 Jerry’s grandfather, Emil Coletta, opened Coletta’s in 1923. His father, Horest Coletta, ran the restaurant for years. “In three years we’ll be celebrating our 100th anniversary.”

The South Parkway restaurant originally was much smaller. “The room where the bar is used to be the whole restaurant,” Coletta says. ”The door opened on the Parkway.”

I love that iconic drinking spot with its red vinyl bar. “We put the bar in in 1971,” he adds. ”Liquor by the drink became legal in 1970.” Lots of people love that bar, according to Coletta. “Well, it’s a combination of the black tables and the red. It just lends to a relaxing atmosphere.”

But you can’t kick back with a cocktail in the bar these days. “It’s still against the rules right now to open the bar,” Coletta says. “Just the dining room may be open now.” They opened the dining room May 4th. “We’re taking out of service every other table so the people are eight to ten feet apart. All the servers are wearing gloves and masks.”
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Dining in hasn’t been popular, Coletta says. “We’re not having a lot of dine-in business. Some days we only have five or six tables. It hasn’t come near what it was, but the takeout business has been good.”

Coletta never experienced anything like the quarantine during his career. “Oh, this is unreal. Every day is a challenge. I have enough sausage to last me another week. I can’t seem to get enough meat to make my sausage. It’s a challenge to find supplies.”

Patrons still can visit another unusual feature of the South Parkway location: the small dining room at the far South side. “We added on that dining room in 1971. It’s supposed to look like an outdoor patio with the blue sky and the stars at night. That’s the effect we try to make back there.”

That dining room reopened this week. “It was a good time to do some remodeling. We repainted the whole room, repainted the statues. It was just a good time to do some maintenance that had been deferred.”

If you don’t want to order one of the top three Coletta’s pizzas, you’ve got many more to choose from. “I would say the possibilities are endless, ” Coletta says. “We list only about 20.”

Is there a Coletta’s pizza that isn’t popular? “We have an onion pizza. Onion and mushroom. It’s one of my favorites, but not too many people order that one.”

His favorite is their sausage, onion, and peppers pizza.

“People ask me if I get tired of eating pizza and I tell them, ‘No, there’s so much variety. You can order a different topping and you get a different meal. I probably eat pizza two or three times a week. And no, I don’t get tired of eating it.’”

Coletta’s is at 1063 South Parkway East (901) 948-7652; and at 2850 Appling Road, (901) 383-1122.

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