The Hummingbird Pastaria opened its doors two years ago on Signal Mountain and has been drawing an ever- widening clientele ever since. Co-owners Patrick Halloran and his wife, Sally, present a classic rustic Italian menu. Chef Patrick describes “rustic” as—“approachable food that people would want to eat every day.”
Ellen Cook of Signal Mountain agrees, “You could eat there every day and never tire of the food.” The neighborhood eatery has a strong following.
“The Hallorans have created a welcoming atmosphere and serve subtly crafted food,” says Cook. “My husband and I used to drive downtown to eat with friends. Now our friends come up here to the Hummingbird.” Richard Winham, a producer and on-air personality at WUTC, is a fan. “There’s a world of difference between a professional cook and one who cooks with soul,” he says. Apparently, the “soul” of the Hummingbird has become well established.
The dream of establishing a home for the Hummingbird had to begin with finding a place to nest. As their search for a site began, Sally points out, “Serendipity soon intervened when we met Nino Piccollo through mutual friends and learned that he was ready to sell his long-established Pastaria on Signal Mountain.” As for the hummingbird name, the Hallorans think of hummingbirds as, “symbols of joy, happiness, and harmony.” The Hummingbird Pastaria opened in March 2014, harboring that sentiment as a guidepost.
Sally wears many hats under the umbrella of “General Manager.” She manages and oversees front-of-house staff training, does the bookkeeping, and oversees community outreach. “And best of all, the role gives me the flexibility during non-peak times to have our daughter Morgaine there. She gets to spend time with her dad, all of the wonderful customers and our team (that she has grown to love). We have been blessed to have so much support from the community and to have our family together.”
“Rustic” and Sally’s words imply “family style,” and the Hallorans bring that to life at the Pastaria in many ways. Every day around five o’clock, they prepare a menu for the staff and join them for a family-style dinner, often including their daughter, now two. As Merri Greving, a server, says, “We all have a chance to catch up on things generally and talk about the day’s special—always very excited to learn what Patrick has come up with.”
Many patrons, who praise the quality and style of the servers, as well as the dining room and the food, reflect the family feeling that permeates the restaurant. “We are a family. Patrick and Sally treat us that way,” says Greving. “I’ve worked as a server for over 11 years in many restaurants and have never been more proud and excited to serve food from Patrick’s kitchen.” She says Chef Patrick’s attention to detail is truly a wonder.
On the second-to-last Monday of each month the social spirit of the Hummingbird plays out in another way when they offer a tavolata. Each tavolata brings 20 people, a pot pourri of couples, small groups, and individuals together at a single community table for a five-course dinner with the option of having a selected wine served with each course. People dine with and become acquainted with new faces and build new connections. The tavolata is attracting wide attention in the Chattanooga area, and its complex menu reflects the layers of Patrick’s skills and broad experience as a chef.
His culinary experience and a passion for rustic Italian fare developed over many years. An interest in “the kitchen” arose at home from his mother who regularly invited Patrick and his brothers to participate in preparing meals. His formal experience was launched at Zingerman’s in Ann Arbor while he was pursuing his degree in English at the University of Michigan. When the executive chef left Zingerman’s to open a small fine-dining restaurant, he invited Patrick to join him as sous chef. There, he began what he describes as his, “Cooking 101” experience—making stocks and sauces, learning flavor composition, and designing dishes.
From there, he moved on to several positions as sous chef and executive chef in Austin, Texas. While working in Austin, Patrick studied with Sebastion Bonneau, a third-generation French butcher. He moved on to the Bacaro Venetian Tavern in Boulder, Colorado in another role as executive chef.
At the Hummingbird, Patrick also serves as the restaurant’s butcher using carefully selected local sources of meat— with one unique twist. He buys his pork from the Olive Branch Beef Company in Pikeville, Tennessee. The Olive Branch raises beef for market, but their hogs end up in only two places, the owners’ table and the Hummingbird Pastaria. Farmers will point out that each farm has its own subtle ecological fingerprint. So, the Olive Branch’s unique “eco-personality” finds its way exclusively into the Hummingbird’s porcine cuisine.
Lamb comes exclusively from the Three Hills Farm, also in Pikeville. The restaurant serves a delectable lamb sausage made onsite for one of its most popular dishes.
Hanger steak, a cut that has been known over time as, “the only cut butchers take home,” is the only cut served. The steak appears in just two items on the menu, ground for the delicate Bolognese and grilled in the Bistecca, served with “roasted roots, roasted tomato, roasted pepper aioli and pan jus.” The Bistecca accompaniments reflect Patrick’s emphasis on a vegetable-rich menu.
The fresh pasta is worth special mention— and lives up to the farm-to-table aspiration. For a batch of his house-made fresh pasta, Patrick uses 90 egg yolks and 15 whole eggs. With over one hundred eggs per day sourced from a Calhoun, Georgia farm—the result is lush. Described by one patron as, “Every bit as elegant and rich as the local fresh pasta I knew growing up in my old-school Italian neighborhood near Boston. It brings back fond memories.”
While the pasta is a signature item, Patrick says, “Every dish at the Hummingbird receives the same attention to detail. I like to think the whole menu represents my signature.”
Patrons say discerning eaters will have a delightful experience at the Hummingbird and that it’s well worth the drive if they don’t happen to live nearby.