Jerry Coletta in the Elvis Room at Coletta's Restaurant on South Parkway.
On Friday, I ate two slices of my first barbecue pizza from Coletta’s Restaurant on South Parkway. Since we ordered a large pizza, we carried most of it home. Then we did a quick swing into Makeda’s Homemade Butter Cookies on Airways because I was thrilled to find the retail location. Tony got caught up in the energy of owner Maurice Hill and his mom and bought $13 worth of cookies. We woofed down a pecan and a chocolate chip in the parking lot. That left 10 cookies in the bag.
So guess what we ate all weekend? Yep. Leftover Coletta’s pizza and cookies from Makeda’s. Admittedly, there are worst fates, and although I added salads to our meals from my first CSA of the season (red leaf lettuce and artichokes!), the pizza and cookies dazzled me the most. I’m not sure if the pizza’s generous topping of smoky chopped pork and banana peppers was more memorable then Jerry Coletta reminiscing about Elvis, but either way, a barbecue pizza from Coletta’s is a genuine Memphis thang.
Founded in 1923 as an ice cream parlor by Coletta’s grandfather, the restaurant has been family run ever since. Coletta was working at the restaurant after college when Priscilla and her friend Sandy Schilling would buy pizzas for Graceland several times a week. “They were so beautiful,” Coletta recalls. “All the guys in the restaurant would go crazy when they came in.”
Elvis ordered so many pizzas from Coletta's that the restaurant set up a charge account paid every month by Col. Tom Parker. These days, the memories live on with an Elvis room at the restaurant decorated with appropriate memorabilia, including an Elvis-era menu. A BBQ pizza, btw, cost less than $2 and a slice of pie was 20 cents.
Coletta’s father invented the barbecue pizza as a way to stoke interest from customers who were unfamiliar at the time with the merits of a deep dish pie. Sixty years later, the trademark dish is still earning accolades. In March, Parade magazine named Coletta’s barbecue pizza one of 10 notables in its “Pizza Hall of Fame.”
“It came as a complete surprise,” Coletta said. “Since the article came out, we’ve had visitors from Colorado, Ohio and Florida.”
Coletta’s Restaurant, 1063 S. Parkway East (901) 948-7652 Makeda’s Homemade Butter Cookies, 2370 Airways Blvd. (901) 745-2667