Osteria Stella: Northern Italy in the Old City

The interior of Osteria Stella.

I’ve noticed that many of our favorite restaurants these days have a sleek, spare feel to their decor. Minimalist, almost. Think Emilia or J.C. Holdway.

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.

Rigatoni Cacio e Pepe.

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.

Here’s what you are looking for!

Our booth before we occupied it!

Proprietor Aaron Thompson with our friend Michael Higdon.

First things first!

We started our meal with house bread and olive oil along with locally grown tomatoes. A perfect opener.

You can’t help but notice all the rose patterns everywhere.

Clockwise from top left: roses on the china, roses on the menus; roses on the chandeliers and napkins folded as roses.

Brasaola. (Arugula salad.)

Thanks goodness Pinot Grigio is an Italian wine!

Great seeing our friends Judy, left, and Jennifer Holder there!

Meanwhile, at our table, the Pesce Spada alla Siciliana (swordfish) was being served.

And the Pollo al Marsala (Chicken Marsala).

Two kinds of house-made gnocchi are offered. I chose the one in tomato sauce and loved it.

At another booth, we saw our friend Art Carmichael with his friend Joy Harris.

Always fun to see Amy Hubbard, left, and Charlotte Tolley.

Darrien Thomson and Chyna Brackeen were checking it out, too.

Back at our table, Amalia Brusati, the culinary consultant, dropped by, posed with my husband, Alan Carmichael, and answered questions.

Our dining companions, Scott Bird, left, and Michael Higdon.

Dessert was Panna Cotta.

I stuck my head in Brother Wolf just to check it out.

I ran into Buzz Goss at the bar.

And buddies Amy Gibson, left, Trish Nabers, center, and Kim Henry.

Owner Jessica King posed with the colorful mural.

The well-stocked bar.

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.


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3 Responses to Osteria Stella: Northern Italy in the Old City

  1. sara pinnell, on July 29th, 2021 at 5:15 pm said:

    We are so excited to have another great restaurant right around the corner! Pamella from our office gave it two thumbs up!

  2. Cynthia Moxley, on July 29th, 2021 at 5:21 pm said:

    Sara: I agree. It’s great. Can’t wait to try Brother Wolf.

  3. Gay Lyons, on July 30th, 2021 at 3:06 pm said:

    We loved it. Looking forward to going back after the rush subsides enough that we can get a reservation earlier than 9:30.

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