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OUT to LUNCH by Bethel Poston: Tired of turkey and trimmings? Head out to Venice

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After gorging ourselves on turkey, dressing, vegetables, deviled eggs, cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie at our Thanksgiving dinner, I wanted to write an “Out to Lunch” article about something with an entirely different taste.
I have previously arranged our Oak Ridge High School Reunion Committee meetings to coincide with my “Out To Lunch” adventures. This is no exception.
When former classmate Jan Harlan suggested Venice Pizza & Grill for meeting, I was ready for an Italian/Mediterranean taste.
Venice Pizza opened in Oak Ridge eight years ago at 131 Robertsville Road, in the lower level of a building in Grove Center shopping area across from the Oak Ridge swimming pool.

Readers may remember I grew up in Oak Ridge. From our Highland Avenue house, I could look out our windows and see the swimming pool (sand bottom, not concrete lined at first), Grove Center and the very popular Grove Movie Theater.
As a teenager, I occasionally helped deliver for Bond Gleason Furniture & Appliances in Grove Center. They had an upper-level showroom with a warehouse below, where Venice Pizza is now located.
Jan started us off by ordering “spaghetti and meat sauce, covered with marinara sauce and mozzarella cheese. Baked in the oven and garnished with Parmesan cheese and parsley.”
All Venice pasta dishes come with made-on-site fresh garlic breadsticks. She also added a side salad.
Lloyd Stokes had beef sauce with his spaghetti, passing on a choice of meatballs or sausage. His wife, Betty Ralph Stokes, went for the spinach ravioli.
Other pasta dishes on the menu are chicken, veal or eggplant Parmigiana; Manicotti; Fettuccine Alfredo; Chicken Romano and more.
Seated to my left was Marjorie Card Matthews. When the server, Raidh Miloudi, asked if she wanted her regular T-Rex Pita order, I knew she was a regular customer.
The T-Rex is a “jumbo pita bread loaded with sirloin steak, beef, sausage, marinara sauce, melted mozzarella and American cheese.”

All subs and pitas come with a choice of fries or chips.
Marjorie asked for a take-home box — as did several others in our group — for half of the very generous pita sandwich.
Her enthusiasm for the T-Rex almost convinced me to order it, but I wanted to have something different. David Willey overheard her comments and chose the T-Rex.
I also almost went for the Reuben sandwich, but instead chose the Greek chicken sack, a new item on the extensive menu.
When it was served it looked like Marjorie’s, but it was filled with “grilled chicken with Venice’s mix of spices, lettuce, onion, tomatoes, tzatziki sauce and olive oil.”
It was delicious, making me forget about turkey and dressing. I ate it all, including my pickle spear, and most of my fries.
My wife, Carol, also chose a sack of “grilled steak with broccoli, nacho cheese, grilled onions, a secret mix of herbs and spices, lettuce and tomatoes.” She also had fries and didn’t take any of her “sack” home.
I was impressed with the presentation of Benny and Jean Davis Houser’s pizza supreme on a pedestal tray. Their pizza was described on the menu as “pepperoni, beef, sausage, peppers, red onions and mushrooms.”
You can create your own pizza or calzone with toppings such as bacon, ham, ground beef, black or green olives, jalapeños and banana peppers. There are also choices of gourmét toppings such as smoked turkey (not for me this week), salami, chicken, meatballs, sirloin steak, veal, artichokes, fresh spinach and eggplant.
There is even a Mexican Taco of Nacho cheese sauce topped with taco-seasoned beef, onions, green peppers, jalapeno peppers, tomatoes, mozzarella and cheddar cheese.
Owner Willie Al is from Jordan. He brings his previous experience with Mario’s Pizzeria chain to Oak Ridge.

He told me all bread served at Venice Pizza is made from scratch on-site. I found the following comment on the Internet:
“This is my family’s favorite local pizza place! The bread dough used in crust, breadsticks, calzone and Stromboli is fresh and delicious, the veggies used are fresh and generous, and the sandwiches uniformly tasty. The pizza sauce does not burn your mouth, and the variety of cheeses are delicious.”
Willie said one of the most-ordered items is chicken Romano.
The menu said chicken Romano is “bowtie pasta with grilled chicken, tomatoes, mushrooms and artichoke hearts ... topped with white creamy sauce and mozzarella cheese, then baked in the oven and garnished with Parmesan cheese and parsley.”
Don Cobb selected the meat lover’s sub of “layers of ham, smoked turkey and roast beef. Served with melted Swiss and provolone cheese, red onions, lettuce and tomatoes on an 8-inch roll.” He had fries.
Of the many subs and pitas on the menu, my eyes landed on the falafel valley pita. I had to research to discover that falafel is a deep-fried ball or patty made from ground chickpeas or fava beans — or both. Falafel is also used as a replacement for meat during Lent.
A variety of burgers and chicken sandwiches are also available.
Mimi Small Brock had the Greek pasta salad, described on the menu as a “blend of pasta, feta cheese, black olives, green peppers, red onions, mushrooms and house dressing.”

I was surprised my wife passed on this salad.
Wanting something less spicy, Barbara Walker White chose an appetizer, a chicken tender basket with fries. Three chicken tenders are served with honey mustard for dipping.
Among the many tempting appetizers she could have ordered was “six falafel patties made of chickpeas, parsley, onions, garlic and house spices. Served with a special homemade sauce on the side.”
Standard beverages are available in this family-friendly place, including apple, orange and cranberry juices.
For a look at a complete menu and more information, visit www.venicepizzaor.com, or call 865-483-8883 for details.
Venice can seat 50 customers and offers delivery and catering services. Hours are from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through  Saturday. Sunday hours are from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Our group filled the table behind us with take-out boxes of leftover food and did not consider the dessert menu.
I saw a sign on the counter for baklava. The menu also offers New York cheesecake, the ultimate chocolate cake, carrot cake, coconut cake, Venice doughnut bites and tiramisu.

The following Internet review describes how many of our group felt about our “Out to Lunch” adventure to Venice Pizza & Grill:
“I ordered delivery food night before last and decided to try something new. We love the restaurant and everything we have tried has been very good. I ordered a crystal white calzone with grilled chicken. It was AMAZING! Best calzone I have ever tasted!
“We have also had a pepperoni fest calzone, Venice burger and a grilled Swiss burger. We liked everything and will patronize this wonderful little restaurant again.”
We finalized plans for our ORHS Reunion Christmas lunch at the Oak Ridge Elks Club on Dec. 6. I don’t plan to write an “Out to Lunch” article about our meal.
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Bethel Poston is a Roane County businessman and entrepreneur who writes about places of interest in our area. E-mail suggestions and comments to postonplace@bellsouth.net.