A Hamburger Today
Pizza Palace: Knoxville, Tennessee's Pizza Drive-In
3132 E. Magnolia Avenue Knoxville, TN, 37914; map); (865) 524-4388; visitpizzapalace.com
Pizza Style: Tennessee style: a cross of NY street and Midwest bar styles.
Oven Type:Gas, A Blodget that dates back almost 50 years.
The Skinny?Scratch made dough and sauce, fresh cheese baked in a decades old oven and delivered piping hot to your car—what's not to love?
Price: 10" pie $5.75, 12" pie $8.35, 14" pie $11.80, toppings extra
When Pizza Palace opened in 1961, it was probably the first time many Tennesseans had eaten pizza from a drive-in, and in some cases, pizza in general. While there are pizzerias all over the South, a pizza drive-in is still pretty unique.
Pizza Palace was started by brothers Arthur, Al and Gus Peroulas, who immigrated from Greece and purchased a drive-in that used to sell burgers. They changed the menu but kept the drive-in and the ordering system. Then, as now, a switchboard routes calls from the parking space telephone terminals and pizzas are baked in a Blodgett oven before being whisked to your car, a tray deposited on your window. These days the business is managed by cousins Sam and Charlie Peroulas, the second generation owners. The menu remains essentially the same with recipes perfected decades ago still intact.
Beyond the pizza, the menu is a full-blown Italian American affair, featuring salads and pasta, as well as some confoundingly excellent onion rings. The homemade meat-based red sauce would completely offend purists, Italian palates, and culinary school students. It is simply delicious. Chock full of USDA Choice beef, butter is used instead of oil (olive oil was probably scarce and expensive in 1961 Knoxville) and it cooks all day like Sunday gravy.
But pizza is obviously the main draw and rightly so. The dough is made from scratch daily and has a yeasty flavor. It rises more than a New York slice, with more lift and airiness and a nice golden color on the crust and a corresponding crunch. Because of its density the crust is soft and pliant but not doughy. there is some tip sag there. The tomato sauce—also from scratch—is sweet and redolent with oregano and basil and applied in sufficient quantities to assert itself through the oodles of cheese.
The generous blanket of mozzarella is suitably molten and mottled with first degree blisters. It seeps into the crevice left by the pizza cutter and appears to remain on the slice by surface tension. It resembles a cross between an NYC street pie and a Midwest bar pizza. The synergy between cheese, sauce, and crust is a pleasing one.
Beyond the tasty pizza and unique setting there are other charms to Pizza Palace. There is a sense of pride and fraternity amongst the staff and a genuine friendliness, rather than a manufactured hospitality you might find at a chain restaurant. And there is a real sense of tradition, almost 50 years on the ethos of fresh, quality food continues. Here's to the next half century.