Pizza is a complicated, nuanced topic. Most people I know prefer one style of pizza to another – Chicago deep dish over New York thin crust, for example. Even so, most of my friends will eat pizza from just about any place in town and I can’t do that for one reason – most pizza in Knoxville, and I’d go so far as to say all pizza from chain stores, is crap. My favorite style of pizza is deep dish, and more specifically, the deep dish pizza you get in Chicago. The “Chicago style” pizza you can get in Knoxville, be it from Jet’s or Pizzeria Uno, is as close to real Chicago pizza as a bald fat guy singing “My Way” at karaoke night is to Frank Sinatra.
So I’ve given up on getting good deep dish pizza in Knoxville. I’d almost given up on getting good pizza at all in Knoxville until we discovered a local place called Little Joe’s. Located at 13100 Kingston Pike, quite a bit further down that road than we’d ever driven before, Little Joe’s quickly became a regular in our restaurant rotation. They serve a very thin crust pizza, almost but not quite a cracker crust, and it is worth the drive.
We made the trek out to Watt Rd on I-40 after work today and arrived before the typical dinner rush crowd. While I go to Little Joe’s for the pizza, I enjoy their pasta as well. So tonight I ordered a bowl of mostaccioli, or as it is more commonly known, penne in addition to our pizza. The mostaccioli is served simply with a meat sauce and it is as good as any other pasta I’ve had in town. The sauce is excellent, but what continues to impress me is how perfectly al dente the pasta is served. This is a pizza joint, after all, and they serve a more consistently good bowl of pasta than most higher-priced Italian restaurants I’ve tried.
In addition to the pasta, my wife and I split a medium pizza, pepperoni and green pepper on her half, pepperoni and Italian sausage on mine. What I like best about Little Joe’s Pizza is the quality of the sauce and toppings. The sauce is so good that I have yet to leave even a stray end piece of crust on my plate. The Italian sausage is the best sausage I’ve ever had on a pizza.
The food at Little Joe’s is great, and that alone would keep me coming back. The owner and staff stand out as some of the friendliest folks in Knoxville. Something that took me a couple of visits to fully understand is that the staff at Little Joe’s aren’t just friendly – they’re happy. Not just “happy and friendly servers get better tips” happy, but genuinely walking around with smiles on their faces, joking and cutting up with each other and the customers happy.
A few weeks ago our server, a young woman, saw I was reading a comic book on my iPad and she asked what I was reading. Trying not to sound too much like an embarrassed kid in the body of a middle aged man, I said, “oh, just a comic book.” So she asked, “I know – which one?” I told her I was reading Action Comics, basically Superman, and she proceeded to tell me about a graphic novel she was reading, “Y: The Last Man.” When we returned a week or so later, she saw me reading the series she recommended and we discussed it briefly. Tonight I let her know I’d finished the series and gave her a recommendation of my own, “Locke & Key.” All this to say I can think of plenty of restaurants where we eat and receive good, timely, polite service. I can only think of one place where I can get awesome pizza and exchange comic book reading suggestions, and that’s Little Joe’s.