Long successful in their Elizabethton location, Primo’s decided against expanding their business into the culinary whirlwind of north Johnson City, choosing instead to open their second location at the always busy Walmart center on Rocky Bottom Road in Unicoi County. The restaurant can be found in the out-parcel of storefronts just off the nearby Interstate 26 interchange with Unicoi’s Tinker Road, meaning this Primo’s can expect a steady stream of hungry customers, not just from Johnson City to the north, but also Erwin and even Asheville, North Carolina, to the south.
My dining partner and I had accompanied the Retiree on her spring gardening jaunt at Asheville’s sprawling farmers market, and were returning with some good specimens for her window boxes when we ran into a good mountain thunderstorm and downpour as we cleared Sams Gap. Not being comfortable with driving in the rain, the Retiree announced she was hungry and would be buying lunch for the three of us. It took us another 15 minutes to decide we wanted Italian, but were not willing to drive all the way to Johnson City to get it. Spotting the Primo’s logo on an I-26 “Food Available” sign, the Retiree took it as divine guidance and headed for the exit.
Primo’s in Unicoi occupies the farthest right location at 100 Rocky Bottom Road. There is sufficient parking available both in front of the restaurant and around to the east side, but please be mindful that, if the rest of the shopping center’s businesses have customers, you may have a bit of a walk for your lunch or supper.
Inside, Primo’s has floor to ceiling windows on two walls, letting in plenty of daylight. For seating, there are 10 booths, each with seating for four. Five of the booths line each of the side walls. There are four tables in the center of the dining area that can be pushed together for family-sized sit-downs. There is a minimum of decor except for the large flat screen television positioned centrally on the back wall. Rest rooms are located to the rear of the dining area and are neat and tidy.
Wanting something that was both light and shareable, I told our server Brooke to bring me a Primo’s salad ($5.99) together with some of Primo’s homemade Greek salad dressing. Having one of these as a lightweight entrée has to be the best value that Primo’s has on its menu. Starting with a bed of chopped iceberg lettuce on a good-sized platter, Primo’s then adds tomato and purple onion slices, cucumber chips, chopped black olives, seasoned croutons, several pickled banana peppers, and all of it topped with lots (and I do mean “lots”) of shredded fresh mozzarella cheese.
Unless you have brought your appetite with you, believe me when I say that you will be sharing your Primo’s salad with your tablemates. This is what happened to me. I had enough salad and that luscious Greek dressing for everyone at our table to have some salad, and that twice over. In exchange, I got to munch on what my fellow diners had ordered. Speaking of which …
(Primo’s Italian Nachos)
Having foregone breakfast to get an early start on the day, the Retiree was really hungry and wanted a substantial lunch. However, she did not want a meal that had pasta or dough as its foundation To that end, our friend consulted the appetizer side of the menu. The Retiree’s choice turned out to be a platter of Primo’s Italian Nachos ($7.50) with chicken instead of Italian sausage serving as protein source for her meal. Here, Primo’s takes lasagna macaroni strips and deep fries them until cooked through and crunchy. These “nacho” chips are then layered with sliced grilled chicken strips, sliced pepperoncini peppers, black olives, diced tomatoes and jalapeno peppers, then topped with melted mozzarella, dusted with grated parmesan cheese and then baked until bubbly. The Retiree likes her Italian Nachos with just a sprinkling of red pepper flakes on top and I must say, the red pepper does add that certain “something” to make the dish taste that much better. My dining partner does not use the red pepper shaker as a rule, but does enjoy the extra kick they supply to a plateful of Primo’s Italian Nachos.
My dining partner consulted with the Retiree and myself before telling our server Brooke what she wanted. Unlike the Retiree, she was perfectly happy to have some of Primo’s excellent pizza dough mix as part of her lunch, choosing a small-sized Primo’s steak calzone turnover ($8.99) with a small bowl containing some of Primo’s excellent marinara sauce for dipping. Making Primo’s steak calzone is deceptively simple for what the finished product is. Take a 12-inch diameter pizza dough, prep it with some flavorful olive oil and then add some coarsely chopped beef steak that’s been enjoying a bath of Primo’s proprietary beef marinade. Add in some chopped onions along with just the right amount of mozzarella cheese, then fold one half of the dough over the fixings and bake it in a very hot oven until the crust gets a nice golden color and all the insides are cooked through and through. My dining partner’s steak calzone was brought to the table divided into thirds, one for each of us. My portion had a dough-to-filling ratio that was a shade heavier on the dough side, but the juices from the steak and onions had penetrated all of it, the crust was still crisp and crunchy, while the melted mozzarella cheese lent a nice, nutty taste and smooth texture to the entire slice. I used the marinara sauce sparingly, its crushed Roma tomatoes adding just the proper sour tang to the calzone’s overall savor. I added a little extra grated parmesan as my salt and yes, some red pepper flakes as my pepper, and was quite pleased with the result.
In the five years since it opened, Primo’s Italian Cuisine in Unicoi has solidified its status as a first-rate Italian restaurant serving excellent Italian cuisine at a price that is one of the best values anywhere. That and their location near Unicoi County’s Wal-Mart and Interstate 26 assures this Primo’s a steady stream of hungry customers. The service is both friendly and knowledgeable without being intrusive, truly the mark of a professional staff and a management that knows its business. Why not give Primo’s in Unicoi a try and see if you don’t agree?
Primo’s Italian Cuisine
100 Rocky Bottom Road
Daily 11 a.m.-9:30 p.m.
Available on Facebook and at
Credit cards accepted