Terranova’s family recipes bring a taste of Italy to Alabama

Terranova’s family recipes bring a taste of Italy to Alabama
With one exception, all of the dishes at Terranova's Italian Restaurant in Athens and Huntsville are founder Dan Oliver's own recipes. (contributed)

For nearly 13 years, Dan Oliver had enjoyed success owning and operating a popular Italian restaurant in Huntsville. When property became available about 35 miles away in downtown Athens, 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, situated on the city square, has been a hit with locals and visitors since it opened in June 2018.

Terranova’s has been a hit since it opened in June 2018 on the square in downtown Athens. (contributed)

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 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 and mozzarella, 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 became a bowling alley after its cotton days were over. Oliver has decorated the exposed brick walls with architectural elements, from 1840s antique doors from Alexandria, Egypt, to an old wooden church register board and Italian directional road signs.

Walk through the front 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.

Terranova’s serves up Italian favorites from original recipes in a historic Athens building. (contributed)

Why the name Terranova’s? Oliver borrowed it.

“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 (character) was named Vinnie 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 truly awesome with famous actors who are still acting.”

Terranova’s is open every day except Monday, for lunch on Sunday. On weekend evenings, diners get a special treat when local accordionist Brody Wilhelm, 15, plays folk music and American classics. Brody, who’s been entertaining patrons for eight months, 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.

This story originally appeared in Alabama Living magazine.

Terranova’s Italian Restaurant

105 Jefferson St., Athens, Alabama 35611

256-800-8016 or 256-800-8061


Closed Monday; 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday, 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.

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