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Family recipes bring a taste of Italy to Athens

By Lenore Vickrey

For nearly 13 years, Dan Oliver had enjoyed success owning and operating a popular Italian restaurant in Huntsville. So when property became available in downtown Athens, a town about 35 miles away, he decided it was time to branch out and open a second location of Terranova’s. 

“Athens is a wonderful, growing, caring community,” he says, “and they did not have an Italian restaurant, so when the situation presented itself, we were all in!” Terranova’s, located right on the city square, has been a hit with locals and visitors since it opened in June 2018. 

The most popular entrees are Italian specialties Chicken Marsala, Pasta Portofino (bowtie pasta sautéed in creamy sauce with smoked bacon, mushrooms and scallions), and Terranova’s Trio (chicken parmesan, lasagna and fettuccine alfredo), but the ribeye bistecca (a 12-ounce ribeye steak seasoned with Italian marinade) and grilled salmon have their fans as well. 

“All of the recipes, except for one, are my recipes,” says Oliver, who describes himself as the “chief cook and bottle washer.” “Believe me, I had a lot of ones that didn’t pan out, but the good ones stuck and are still kicking.” 

Not hungry enough for a full entrée? Terranova’s appetizers, soups or salads could fill you up. The corn-crab soup, full of sweet, sautéed corn, onions, peppers and blue crab claw meat is a house original. Fried green tomatoes are given an Italian twist with a bechamel sauce, mozzarella, and baked with a sweet red pepper and basil topping.  

Got room for dessert? There’s Italian cream pie, tiramisu, crème brulee and of course, cannoli.

Terranova’s building was built in the early 1900s to store cotton, Oliver was told, and was later used as a bowling alley after its cotton days were over. Oliver has decorated the exposed brick walls with a variety of architectural elements, from 1840s antique doors originally from Alexandria, Egypt, to an old wooden church register board and Italian directional road signs. 

Walk through the front side door into U.G. White Mercantile, an eclectic general store that’s been in business since 1917, when Athens was a hub for the cotton and railroad industries in Limestone County. Check out the homemade chocolate candy counter, get a U.G. White soft T-shirt, and take home a bar of homemade soap, a funky kitchen towel or jar of homemade pickles or fruit preserves. 

Why the name Terranova’s? Oliver borrowed it from one of his favorite TV shows. “It came from a TV series in the late 1980s called “Wiseguy,” says Oliver. “It was a show that every episode built on the previous show. The lead actor was named Vinny Terranova, and he worked undercover for the OCB, the Organized Crime Bureau, and he would filter into organized crime families, gather info on the people and then finally at the end of the season, he would bring them all down and arrest them all. It was a truly awesome with famous actors who are still acting (today).” 

Terranova’s is open every day but Mondays, for lunch on Sundays, and on weekend evenings, diners get a special treat. Local self-taught accordion player Brody Wilhelm, 15, entertains patrons with folk music and American classics. Brody, who’s been entertaining patrons since June, also plays xylophone in the James Clemens High School Marching Band in nearby Madison.

“Brody is a pleasant, gifted and kind young man and his talents in music complement those characteristics,” says Oliver. “I believe it is a reflection of his wonderful, loving family.” Just one of the many reasons Terranova’s is worth the drive. 

Terranova’s Italian Restaurant

105 Jefferson St., Athens, AL 35611

(256) 800-8016 or (256) 800-8061

HOURS

11 a.m. to 2 p.m.; CLOSED Monday; 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday; 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Thursday; 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday

Visit at terranovasrestaurant.com.