Well, Osteria Stella, the new Northern Italian eatery in Knoxville’s Old City, is not like that. Quite the opposite. It is lush and ornate. You really feel like you are in a much more formal setting than Knoxville, Tennessee. And that’s nice, for a change.
The food, however, runs the gamut. Some dishes are super simple, like the Rigatoni Cacio e Pepe — literally just pasta with cheese and black pepper. And others are much more complicated including Pesce Spada alla Siciliana — swordfish with tomatoes, black olives, capers and pine nuts. Members of our party recently had both those dishes — and loved them.
Despite the formality of the setting, the vibe at Osteria Stella is casual and welcoming. The staff is friendly and helpful and conversational. And very knowledgeable about the menu and wine offerings.
Speaking of wine, the restaurant has more than 140 bottles — all Italian — from 20 different wine regions of Italy. Aaron Thompson, the owner along with his wife, Jessica King, personally curated the wine offerings. The food menu, however, was designed with the help of culinary consultant Amalia Brusati, who recently moved here from Milan. All the breads and pasta are made in-house and the menu features as many locally produced products as possible. (Although there’s not much local swordfish to be had!)
The restaurant is named after Thompson and King’s daughter, Stella, who turned one on the establishment’s opening day. The address is 108 W. Jackson Ave., in the former location of Rebel Kitchen. It is open for dinner starting at 5 p.m. on Tuesday through Saturday. We were lucky enough to snag an early sitting recently. For the next couple of weeks, however, you can’t secure a table prior to 9:30. Knoxvillians do love a new restaurant!
Conveniently located next door is Brother Wolf, which defines itself as an “Italian apertivo bar” where tasty, small snacks are served with lower-proof cocktails. Thompson and King say they see Brother Wolf cultivating an atmosphere that fosters “long conversations fueled by long drinks.” It has, among other things, 11 variations of the Negroni, along with 32 Italian wines by the glass. It’s open Monday through Friday from 4 p.m. to 3 a.m. and on Saturdays and Sundays from noon to 3 a.m. Based on our great experience at Osteria Stella, we are looking forward to trying Brother Wolf.
You can’t help but notice all the rose patterns everywhere.
There you have it. A trip to Italy without breaking out the passport. Which, given the way the COVID news is going, might be a really good thing.