Johnny Carino’s is owned by Carino’s Italian, a US-based chain of Italian food restaurants with more than 80 location – over 70 in the United States and 10 spread out across the Middle East. In spite of financial setbacks over the past few years, the Pigeon Forge restaurant does a booming business. Part of the reason for that is the steady quality of food and the number of signature dishes that have become fan favorites. Johnny Carino’s restaurants pride themselves on serving fresh, quality food at a fair price.
The truth is, you sometimes long for familiarity, a restaurant where there is no need to spend time studying the menu and you’re pretty sure you know where the restrooms are located. One Johnny Carino’s looks much like another, with stone and stucco exterior walls covered by a low Spanish tile roof. If you’re traveling, it may be tough to remember what city you’re in once you enter the interior. The Pigeon Forge location looks like the San Antonio location and the San Antonio location looks a lot like the Bend, Oregon eatery. It’s like visiting an old friend after they’ve moved to a new city only to discover they have designed and decorated their new home in precisely the same way as the house they left. You know where everything is and you are immediately at ease.
While some travelers pride themselves on avoiding chain restaurants and head instead to local one-of-a-kind eateries, there is a measure of comfort to be found in dining somewhere you know you will enjoy. In fact, after all the busyness that accompanies travel, a familiar eatery can represent a bit of a haven. Johnny Carino’s may be predictable, but it is also dependable, with favorites such as:
- A great selection of classic Italian appetizers. Their hummus is rich, creamy, and topped with grilled red peppers and feta cheese. Pay particular attention to the Italian Nachos, crispy pasta chips baked with Italian sausage (and/or chicken), black olives, pepperoncinis, tomatoes, jalapenos, and topped with a delicious mixture of Alfredo sauce, mozzarella, and parmesan. While their mozzarella sticks with marinara, baked stuff mushrooms, and hand breaded calamari are standard fare, make room for the Sicilian fire sticks – flour tortillas rolled in a mouth-watering blend of Italian sausage, chicken, bacon, tomatoes, jalapenos, and Italian cheeses. They’re served with spicy marinara and ranch dressing and are likely to be the first thing on your mind the next time you walk through the doors.
- Every salad is finished with a bit of a twist, a little something extra that makes it special. In the case of the Italian wedge, it’s the candied pecans and fresh apple slices that are added to iceberg lettuce, garlic ranch dressing, applewood smoked bacon, Roma tomatoes, and gorgonzola cheese. Seriously though, you cannot go wrong with any of the salad options.
- Johnny Carino’s offers a variety of signature dishes, many of them absolutely worthy of honor. Standouts include angel hair with artichokes and the sirloin timballo. The first dish consists of artichoke hearts, Roma tomatoes, garlic, capers, fresh basil, black olives, and parmesan served over a warm bed of angel hair pasta. The latter is presented in a hot skilled filled to the brim with grilled sirloin, spaghetti, marinated onions and peppers, mushrooms, black olives, pepperoni, baked mozzarella, and parmesan cheese.
Does it really matters if every restaurant you visit is someplace you’ve never been before? When you find a dependable eatery with a menu you enjoy, you have a winner on your hands. Johnny Carino’s does one thing — Italian food. Fortunately, they do that one thing well, offering a decent value for food that’s worth going out for.
- Plan for leftovers. Serving sizes are large and leftovers are the norm.
- Call ahead for reservations if you have a large group and are worried about the wait.