Alan ordered Chicken Nona, which is a half chicken with crispy skin roasted with oil cured olives, caramelized onion and lemon, finished with pan juices and served with macaroni and red gravy.
(UPDATE: Primo closed in March 2017. The restaurant lost its chef. Service tanked. Closing was sad, but not surprising.)
My husband, Alan, and I have followed the career of Chef Bruce Bogartz since he opened his restaurant called Southbound in the L&N Station on World’s Fair Park in 1989.
That was our favorite eatery at the time because of its creative Southern fusion menu and its edgy hip vibe. Southbound only lasted a couple of years, but other restaurants followed for Bogartz: Bogartz in Bearden and RouXbarb on Northshore Drive, each attracting a devoted following.
But I think Primo Ristorante Italiano, Bogartz’ new place on the fifth floor of the Sunsphere, may be his best culinary endeavor of all. Yesterday was my birthday and I picked Primo for my special dinner. It was our first visit and it did not disappoint. (Note: We don’t represent them.)
Primo is located in the space formerly occupied by the Icon lounge and some of the Icon’s old fixtures are still apparent. The water bar on the left hand side of the restaurant, for example. But the atmosphere is very different. The feel of this restaurant is supposed to be reminiscent of a Palm Springs, California, supper club circa 1960. Guests are greeted by a tuxedo-wearing maitre d’ and Frank Sinatra tunes play softly in the background.
The view, of course, is spectacular with a panoramic spread of downtown Knoxville and its surrounding suburbs, all with the Smoky Mountains as a backdrop. It’s fun to have a cocktail and look out the sloped windows trying to identify various landmarks.
But when the food comes, trust me, you likely will forget about the view and pay full attention to your plate.
Yep. You are in the right place! Enter the Sunsphere through its base in World’s Fair Park and take advantage of valet parking for just $4. (But don’t forget to add a tip for your parker.)
The graphics on the menu give you an idea of the feeling they are going for.
We started with minestrone, described as “Italian penicillin” because it’s “sure to cure whatever ails you.” Ha. It’s always vegetarian, but changes ingredients seasonally.
We sat in this area to the right when you get off the elevator. It features “love seats” where diners sit side by side facing the stunning view. The fireplace on the back wall puts out real heat, so keep that in mind when choosing your seat.
The complimentary parmesan garlic biscuits are worth the price of the entire meal, if you ask me. Simply melt-in-your-mouth deliciousness with a crispy top.
Here’s a traditional table for two, if you don’t feel like the love seats.
For a pasta course, Chef Bogartz suggested (really, to be honest, insisted) that we try the orecchiette, which are “little pasta ears” tossed in wild mushroom broth with leeks and artichokes finished with parmesan and white truffle oil.
“It’s vegetarian, but you’d never know it,” Chef Bogartz said. “You could eat truffle oil on balsa wood and it would taste good,” Alan opined.
There’s one table (called the VIP table) in a little cubbyhole away from the windows. (I’d rather be by the windows.)
Alan, who is into red wine these days, ordered a bottle of Smith & Hook cabernet sauvignon. ($48)
The beautiful table tops look like marble, but they are not. They are concrete. They were created by Eugenia Almeida, a Knoxville artisan originally from Argentina.
I love mussles and that’s what I ordered. They normally are served in their shells dripping in champagne saffron cream sauce. But because it was my birthday, Chef Bogartz made my dish into a stew. It was fantastic.
If you have a big crowd, you can ask for this table. If you’d like, your meal can be served family style so everyone can pass the dishes — just like a big Italian family would do.
Again, Chef Bogartz insisted we try small portions of two different desserts. This is mandarin infused chocolate mousse with Chantilly cream. Holy cow!
Chef Bogartz described this dish as “what would happen if banana pudding and tiramisu went to the prom and had a love child!” That was a pretty apt description!
Here’s that snappily dressed maitre d’, Eric Knieper.
The water bar is still there.
Even the ladies’ room is stylish.
Here’s Alan Carmichael, center, with Chef Bruce Bogartz, right, and Sous Chef Chris Stone.
So, here’s the takeaway. Cancel whatever plans you had for dinner tonight and go to that big gold ball on the edge of downtown Knoxville. You can call Primo for a reservation: (865) 249-7321. (Thanks to my friend Dan Andrews for telling me how great Primo is.)
You had me at Italian!
Hmmn. Didn’t know he has a new Italian theme. We will have to try it.
Haha, Tom! Of course I did! Seriously, you and Deanene have GOT to go to this place!
Yes, Monique. You all must try it.
This looks fantastic, and I’ve always wanted to dine at the Sunsphere (well, since the Fair closed that is).
Wow, Cynthia, you do know how to do a sales job. I’m putting it on my “To Do” list – at the top, in fact. And, to agree with Barry, it does look fantastic!
Barry: It was fantastic. You all will really like it, I predict.
Bette: Knowing of your fondness for Italian food, I’d love to hear your opinion after you visit.
Based on your recommendation, I’ll be at there tonight. Looks like Primo might be the destination dining spot that the Sunsphere has long deserved.
Just made our reservations for Saturday night, party of 6! Bruce actually answered the phone and I told him that I read your blog post and just HAD to go, like now. Ha! I’m super excited. With a last name like Fulco, good Italian is like a sampling of heaven for me.
I hope you enjoy it, Scott! Please let me know. The Sunsphere does deserve a great restaurant. Folks are always asking what’s in it. Now we can say a not-to-be-missed eatery.
Awesome, Shaun. Let me know if it passes the Fulco test!
Bruce should hire you. Reading this article has made me call for reservations!
Thanks, Karyn. I love Bruce and his food. But I like our relationship the way it is. I know him well enough to realize he wouldn’t take my advice! I hope you have an amazing dinner there!
Dying to try this place in May!
Can’t wait give Primo a try! Love Bruce!
Carol: We will make plans to go there during your Knoxville visit!
Shell: If you love Bruce and his food, you are in for a treat.
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Sounds great. Love that Bruce is back… And in such a beautiful venue
Can’t wait to go. Don’t have far to walk.
Wow, this IS good news! We need a better Italian restaurant here in town. Good coverage, Cyn!
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