Pizza Palace, Knoxville TN

So I was reading the tie-in book for Guy Fieri’s Food Network TV series Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives and I told myself, “Self, you totally need to eat at some of these places.” A few months after that, in the summer of ’09, Marie and I started talking about where we’d like to go for our honeymoon and we settled on a big old road trip. As I’m recounting in my first-of-each-month honeymoon flashbacks, this trip started in Charlotte, wound its way up to Montreal and finished, ten days later, in one of our favorite towns, Knoxville, where we met up with the children after they spent two weeks’ summer vacation with their mom. There, we settled in for supper at one of three Triple-D restaurants that were featured on Fieri’s show and book which we were able to visit on our trip.

Marie instantly declared Pizza Palace one of the all-time winners of road eating. This is absolutely her favorite pizza in the world, which is why it gets a spot on the blog now instead of sometime next year as a honeymoon flashback. The reality is that we don’t know what the future holds or whether it’s going to be easy to revisit Quebec or New Hampshire again any time soon, but we can probably bank on plenty more visits to Pizza Palace. As long as they’re still with us and we’re living within three hours of Knoxville, we will be pulling in for a twelve-inch pie. Bank on it.

Charlie Peroulas and his cousin Sam own this restaurant, and one of them has been there each of the three times we’ve visited. Their fathers opened it in 1961, back when nobody in town really knew what pizza was. We spoke with Charlie for a little while on that first visit last summer, and he was still really pleased with the celebrity that Triple-D brought his little drive-in. He said that ever since they were featured on Triple-D (in late 2007, I believe), not one day had gone by without at least one customer coming in and mentioning that the TV show had brought them. And while I don’t know whether they were road trippers like us, I can confirm that when we stopped by two Saturdays ago, there were cars in the lot with North Carolina, Texas and Florida plates with happy drivers inside chowing down.

Oh, did I not clarify that? This is a drive-in. While there is a little counter seating available for take-away orders or if you just insist on not accidentally getting the best meat sauce in town on your new upholstery or if you want to say hello to the owners and tell ’em where you’re from, you’re meant to enjoy your pizza or pasta in the comfort of your car. I love this place.

Now, Marie’s not wrong; this pizza really is terrific. I honestly prefer one or two of the places here in Atlanta, but that’s no slight on Pizza Palace. They make their crusts fresh – it’s an overnight process – and they top it with a homemade, secret recipe tomato sauce that just flat out embarrasses most of their competition. The sauce spreads almost all the way to the edge, so this is wonderful to the last bite. Their toppings are also really something else. We love the extra gooey cheese and the finely ground beef. Pepperoni, mushrooms, whatever you’re looking for, this place does it right.

Honestly, though, there’s more to this place than just pizza. I would most strongly recommend splitting a ten-inch pie and a bowl of spaghetti with your road-tripping buddy. Marie and I may quibble on whether this is either the best pizza ever, or merely fantastic, but there’s no question about this meat sauce. It is definitely the best I’ve ever had. Again, cooking this is an almost all-day affair, using USDA choice top round, onions and butter along with that secret tomato sauce, and the result is completely magnificent.

The other signature item that we have tried would be the onion rings. Now, Marie’s not quite as crazy about these as I am, but she likes the pizza a little better than me, so it all evens out. The onions are very sweet and I just love this breading. They serve these with ketchup, and the flavors mix pretty well, but the rings don’t really need it. Actually, there’s a lot on this menu, ranging from several salads to hamburgers to fish sandwiches to ravioli. Looking over it more closely on Saturday, I noted that you can order pretty much everything here, except possibly tomato aspic.

Three visits, three absolutely perfect pies. Perhaps you can see what I was talking about when I mentioned in the last chapter the difficulty caused by our favorites when we only go to Knoxville two or possibly three times a year. For a town to have two such good, reasonably-priced options for meals, it’s going to be kind of hard to break away and try new places! Or to convince Marie of that, anyway.