[gdlr_image_link type=”image” image_url=”” link_url=”” alt=”” target=”_blank”]SIGNAL MOUNTAIN. Summer days call for a drive to Signal Mountain to hike along the many trails. Or, at least stop in at Signal Point to take in the stunning vista of the Tennessee River Gorge from the limestone rim. Such adventures may work up an appetite.


Artist: Nino Piccolo

In small communities and rural areas it can be a challenge to find an alternative to franchises, a challenge to find where the locals eat. ‘Where is the ‘real’ food?’ I sometimes find myself asking when I travel.

Those of us who dwell in the world of good design, see food as a natural extension of our aesthetic. We seek out those places where seasonal food is not only delicious and satisfying, but is offered with an attention to presentation and well, beauty. There’s a reason many people begin a good meal with a pause and click and a desire to share the moment. A good meal is worthy of recording in a visual diary of memory or media.

After a long hike on the mountain today, I was hoping to find such a place to eat, a setting where I could relax and reflect, particularly one with an outdoor dining option. I was hungry, but not ready to go into that world of artificial air conditioning. Winding back through the residential community that sprawls atop the mountain, I began thinking I might have to head down to find a distinct place to get a bite. But then I noticed a small cafe just off the main road. 720 Mississippi Avenue. I had heard the place closed long ago. The image of an origami bird on the signage on the door first caught my attention. This was new. 

Inside, where I met my hostess, I was greeted by a large painting of a boy eating spaghetti. The drama of the rich warm colors against a clean white wall was not what I expected at a suburban eatery. Noticing my interest in the painting, the hostess commented that the former owner, Nino Piccolo, was the painter. Nino’s Pastaria on the mountain was a neighborhood gathering spot for many years, and the new owners wanted to continue their connection with that local history. Nice touch. Across the room was a large expansive blue painting that evoked the sea, also by Nino. Otherwise, the room’s sensibilities were very clean and simple and clearly focused on table and plate. White walls allowed the paintings their drama. White plates and bowls allowed the edible art their pedastal. No clutter. Only a glass cabinet where fat olives and slices of cheeses were artfully arranged as appetizers on smaller white dishes.

DSC_1118I was seated outside, just as I had hoped. A small bouquet of fresh herbs sat on my table as a nice design detail. Flower boxes buffered the patio from the parking lot. A woman came to light a candle for each table as dusk approached. My meal from the so-called ‘peasant’ menu arrived with lovely intention. I chose ‘polpette’—pork meatballs, marinara, pecorino (which is so much better than parmesan) with the restaurant’s housemade spaghetti. Delicious, generous in portion, and a bargain at $10. THIS was real food.

When my check came, I was surprised when it arrived on a handmade block of wood with the origami bird logo carved in simple lines at the top. A contrasting piece of wood was inset into the larger block with a strap of elastic to hold the bill and payment. Someone made this, clearly.

Only later, after arriving home, did I revisit my photos of this memorable meal. Curious about the place, I googled the name, Hummingbird Pastaria, and learned that it is owned by Patrick and Sally Halloran, who bought the old place from Nino Piccolo more than two years ago. I read that the Nino of Nino’s Pastaria was an architect in Chattanooga, as well as an artist.

DSC_1116So, while we normally do not focus on food in our discussions on design, ‘we had to share,’ as we like to say at Nashville Interiors. And we’d love to hear from you about the Tennessee eateries that elevate your experience with food, and offer a setting that feeds your interior life. Please share in the comments. 

Hummingbird Pastaria is a farm-to-table casual ‘trattoria’ that focuses on seasonal ingredients, and has a strong relationship with local farms to provide their pork and lamb. They position themselves as a neighborhood restaurant, ‘serving fresh no brow rustic fare to the Signal Mountain community.’ But we thought the news should get out beyond the neighborhood.

So when you are on Signal Mountain to check out the natural beauty this summer, also check out Hummingbird Pastaria to taste and see the results of a ‘scratch’ kitchen. I hear they roll out eight different pastas each morning hoping you’ll stop in and bring family, friends, and an appreciation for fresh design.


polpette: pork meatballs, marinara, pecorino, housemade spaghetti