“We’re delighted,” says Nathan Lindley, whose IL Primo is celebrating over a year of serving fresh homestyle Italian cuisine to its North Chattanooga neighborhood. Lindley, also creator of Public House and The Social at Warehouse Row on Chattanooga’s Southside is looking to expand the draw to the North Chatt eatery. The comfortable restaurant already serves the freshest pasta and vegetables to be found, with house made zucchini pasta and fresh tomato dishes in summer. This rolls over to butternut squash in the fall.
IL Primo restaurant manager Josh Nasen is deeply involved with the Northside Farmer’s Market too, making sure the ingredients are varied and in perfect harmony with the menu.
As the economy continues to strengthen, Lindley expects Chattanoogans to become ever more savvy locovores. He developed a meaningful menu that changes periodically with the help of his friend, delicatessen owner Bruce Weiss, who grew up in the Bronx and drew from his diverse neighborhood experience. Together they experimented with balancing classic New York mealtime traditions of Italy that have been influenced by the immigrant experience. “These people were enjoying the bounty of America,” says Lindley. “Now, they could afford to eat meat almost every night,”
IL Primo is tucked into a shopping complex in the heart of Riverview and it serves dinner Monday through Saturday, with a bar hours beginning at 4:00 p.m.. Happy hour prices are $4 for draft beers and certain cocktails, with half-price wine by the glass. The intimate commercial center is continually adding boutiques, shops and restaurants to the mix and has become a destination, especially for Hixson and other lake community dwellers. Lindley thinks its customer base is bound to grow even more as people come to understand the authenticity of the food.
If you ask him how the restaurant industry in Chattanooga is faring, he will tell you it’s the healthiest it has ever been. “Although now we’re seeing a little too much of the same thing,” he adds. Nathan is the oldest of six Lindley brothers, three of whom are entrenched in the restaurant business in the city, with brother Daniel having opened a new restaurant called 5th & Taylor in Nashville’s trendy Germantown district this year. Daniel also owns Alleia, on Main Street in Chattanooga. Michael, the youngest brother, is executive chef at The public House. Does the competition cause fiction among the siblings?
“We actually get along better now,” says Nathan. “We talk about baseball, music, and kids.” Their family moved from St. Louis in the 1980’s and they’re all Cardinals fans.
And yes, life is a little easier for Nathan now than it was 15 years ago when he worked for Frank Stitt at Bottega in Birmingham. Chef Stitt worked in the kitchen of various San Fransisco Bay area restaurants and assisted the noted food writer Richard Olney on a seires of Time-Life books written in the French countryside. A 2001 James Beard award winner, Stitt, developed strong beliefs in the sustainable agriculture and the humane treatment of animals from his time in the France. Today he is involved in the Alabama Governor’s Advisory Board of Farmers’ Markets.
Back in 1982, Stitt opened Highlands Bar and Grill, as well as Bottega and Café Bottega, and in 2000 he opened Chez Fonfon, all in Birmingham.
As Lindley will tell you, the region’s food scene evolved since then to become- obviously more local, yet far more appreciated too- with Southern restaurants drawing patrons from miles around. These restaurants have become regional destinations, driven by an interest in a deeper shared experience. It is no different for IL Primo.
Having achieved some notoriety for his Palace Foods restaurant group (a literally nod to John Steinbeck’s Cannery Row), Lindley continues to keep his menu updated, although most evenings he is home with his wife and his two children.
Yet this season, IL Primo will take reservations for more holiday parties than ever before with the addition of luncheons for a limited time. The rich aromas drifting from the doorway of IL Primo perpetually promise satisfaction- contentment even.