Known as ‘little Chicago’ because of its association with bootleggers during Prohibition in the 1920s, Johnson City is one of the biggest gastronomic hubs in Tennessee. We pick 10 of the best places to enjoy local food, from southern classic dishes to BBQ and burgers.
Gourmet and Company
Under the same ownership for the last 25 years, Gourmet and Company is known for its use of local produce in creating some of the best fine-dining experiences in Johnson City. However, as well as providing some of the best hospitality in town, Gourmet and Company has an attached shop that sells fantastic boutique homeware, including plates, candles and more. The menu, of course, changes depending on what is seasonally available, but dishes have previously included pork medallions wrapped in bacon with red dragon mac n’ cheese, pan roasted chicken with spaghetti squash, and even dark chocolate lava cake for dessert.
Café Lola describes itself as a wine and martini bar as well as a bistro. To that end, the team at Café Lola strive to make sure that all of their guests leave completely satisfied with both food and booze. Decorated in a loud yet stylish fashion, the walls of Café Lola are as colourful as the food is exciting. Dishes include a Lola’s own interpretation of macaroni and cheese, topped with a mornay sauce and crispy shallots and steamed mussels in a tomato, saffron and white wine sauce. Lola’s is also open for brunch, serving everything from chorizo with herb baked eggs to amaretto French toast.
Scratch Brick Oven Foodworks is a modern pizzeria combined with the quintessential charm of a rustic American restaurant. All of the pizzas are cooked in a wood-fired pizza oven, which was hand built by the team at Scratch before opening. All of the meats, dough, sauces and other toppings are homemade at the restaurant and guests can choose between regular base, stuffed and Chicago style pizzas. Wheat intolerance? They even make dough that’s gluten free.
While Café Pacific is based in a traditionally built farmhouse, the interior – and tableware – have a modern and an eclectic feel that belies the overall settings. Dishes are prepared with ingredients grown in Café Pacific’s very own kitchen garden. Starters include frogs’ legs Provençale with a garlic confit and tempura oysters with chickpea curry. Main meals include tender grilled pork loin with a Jack Daniels and orange sauce, or duck two ways with a blueberry and zinfandel sauce. All of the dishes are served with exquisite presentation and look almost too good to eat but, for those who can eat all that and more, there is an extensive desserts list.
Cootie Brown is a fictional character, dreamt up by the Vella family. Fictional Brown travels the world sampling different cuisines before cooking them for his friends, a philosophy that the owners of Cootie Brown’s stick to, even today. The restaurant boasts an eclectic menu populated entirely from homemade ingredients. The sauces, the pestos and veggie burgers are all made, lovingly, on site. Cootie’s are particularly famous for their own brand of key lime pie and adoring fans are even able to pick these up to take home. Definitely a must visit, Cootie’s even sells t-shirts, so you’ll have something to remember them by.
Set in a former fire station, The Firehouse Restaurant is a barbecue joint like no other. If the thrill of the grill is too much to resist, this is the place to eat. The Firehouse opened in 1980 and has since grown to have a huge community impact, so expect this restaurant to be filled with locals nearly every night of the week. Dishes are as indulgent as can be expected, with piles of tender meat in all manner of delicious sauces. For example, the Carolina pulled pork, smoked for 16 hours and smothered in a delicious Carolina sauce, is simply unmissable.
It isn’t very often that food enthusiasts will find a restaurant that boasts both incredible burgers and fantastic vegan cuisine. However, that is exactly what Mid City Grill is offering. Perfect for groups that find eating out difficult (some vegetarians, some carnivores) the Mid City Grill offers a great selection of meaty or vegan-friendly burgers, sandwiches and salads. The grilled tofu sandwich or black bean burger are perfect for meat-free guests, while meat lovers can devour anything from a pork dip sandwich to a bacon cheeseburger.
Tupelo Honey Café overflows with traditional southern hospitality and particularly celebrates Johnson City’s history as a great railway town, with a 16ft model (complete with train) of the city circa 1938. Focusing strongly on an organic menu, the food is as fresh as it comes. The all-day breakfast menu features fried chicken with biscuits, and sweet potato pancakes. Dinner and lunch are a chance to see the Honey Café’s showpiece dishes, with southern-inspired supper plates, shrimp dishes, and more.
One Acre Café describes itself as a community café for everyone, and is possibly the friendliest place in Johnson City. The café has a real social conscience and only promotes healthy, hearty and nutritious food, such as roast beef, garden quiche, or chicken salad, which come with customisable sides. The restaurant only serves lunch across the working week; it shuts at 2pm and is not open on the weekend so be sure to plan around those times.
Mona Lisa’s Gelato is the place to go when looking for a sweet treat, producing some the best gelato in town. Gelato, while not dissimilar to ice cream, differs in its denser texture and warmer serving temperature. Due to a lower fat content, flavours in gelato are also stronger than those in ice-cream. The gelato itself is made from Mayfield cream and ingredients especially from Italy. Guests can choose between one, two, or three scoops of gelato to enjoy.