By DR JOHN GALLAHER
In my never-ending search for great food and new places to dine in Wilson County and the surrounding area, I love just stumbling upon a place I have never been. This month I had a little help from a patient. Jill Major, wife of Brad Major, told me about a great little pizza place in Mt. Juliet that she said had some of the best New York-style thin crust pizza around. Pizza has been one of my favorite foods since I can remember.
Over the years, I cannot count how many pizzas I have consumed from the old Mr. Gatti's, Gondola, David's, and in more recent years Painturo's. They are all different, and I love them all. I knew I was going to have to give this highly recommended place a try, and the very next day I found myself heading down I-40 to the Mt. Juliet exit to check out Poppy's Pizza. I had already informed Angel of the next restaurant I was going to review, but after one trip to Poppy's, I called and told her to stop the presses.
As I walked into Poppy's, I had already decided that I HAD to try the pizza, but what I discovered is that Poppy's has a very large lunch buffet that, to my surprise, is served every day, seven days a week for a very affordable $6.99. I immediately saw four or five very large pizzas that looked great, but to my appetite's delight, I found so much more. Poppy, whose actual name is Frank Ienna, hails from Sicily. His family moved to the States years ago, living in Brooklyn, so Frank has spent time in two parts of the world that know a thing or two about Italian fare.
As I spoke with Poppy, I learned something that made me flashback to my youth. My very first memory of the food court at the then brand new Hickory Hollow Mall in Nashville was a place called Picnic Pizza. I got a slice from there countless times, only rarely opting for one of my other favorite food options that had just come to Nashville … Chick-Fil-A. And even though Chick-Fil-A made it difficult NOT to choose them by handing out free samples, I almost always made my way down to the very right-hand end of the food court line for some Picnic Pizza. Well, amazingly enough, it was Poppy’s owner, Frank, who was one of the owners of Picnic Pizza, along with his Italian friends Sal, Franco, and Tino (hey, these were the Soprano's before there were Soprano's.)
I asked Poppy how he got his name. He said his daughter, when trying to say Papa as a toddler, called him ‘Poppy’. And even as she grew older, she continued to call her dad ‘Poppy’, with her friends referring to him, by this, as well. So the name has stuck to this day. Anyone that knows him when they come into his restaurant and sees him cries out “Hey Poppy!”.
Getting back to the food, Poppy cooks everything as he says the “Old Sicilian” way, no rush. He slow cooks his homemade tomato sauce for over three hours to get the acidity out. I'm not sure what it's pH level is when he is through cooking it, I just know it is awesome! And I was amazed at the time and effort he puts into his cheeses that he uses for his pizzas, lasagnas, and other tasty treats. Poppy could do as most restaurants do these days and just use pre-sliced or pre-shredded cheese. Instead, he buys large blocks of three different types of cheeses and blends them together to give his pizza and pastas a wonderful flavor and your taste buds a mouthwatering experience.
On a recent visit, Poppy let me try some of his calamari. It is lightly breaded and seasoned in his special Italian seasonings and is so good. For the non-meat eaters, he makes a great eggplant lasagna, or just order one of his great pizzas sans the meat.
I think most of my readers know I don't steer you wrong when it comes to great food. Please come give Poppy's Pizza a try. I promise you will not be disappointed. You can't go wrong at lunchtime with the incredible buffet he serves. And come for dinner and order exactly what you want straight off the menu. Poppy even has chicken tenders that I like, and I know your kids will love too.
Poppy's is located at 1209 North Mt. Juliet Road, just a quarter mile off the Mt. Juliet exit. They are open seven days a week for lunch and dinner, so you have no excuse NOT to go.