Cootie Brown’s: 13 years and still going strong

Mystery Diner • Sep 24, 2012 at 10:23 AM

Every now and then, the dine-around bunch likes to re-visit old haunts, just to see what has changed and what has remained the same. We recently did just that by spending an evening at north Johnson City’s Cootie Brown’s.

Now, Cootie’s has been a favorite of mine ever since owners Tony and Christina Vella converted an old produce market on North Roan Street way back in 1999, decorating it in the signature Cootie Brown’s “tramp art” style and introducing “Fusion Cuisine” to Tri-Cities diners. It was this combination of various types of cuisine, Mexican, California, Mideast, Creole, Comfort and Caribbean that endeared Cootie’s to my heart and palate.

The menu is flexible enough for you to stay in your comfort zone with, say, a burger and fries, and yet have enough variety in its several pages of newsprint for you to mix and match your meal, limited only by your imagination and bank balance. Over the years, many other restaurants have attempted to emulate Cootie’s laid-back style and wide-open menu. However, if you want fusion cuisine in its original form, Cootie Brown’s is the place to find (or rediscover) it.

Our party rolled up about 6:45 p.m. and were escorted to our table by our server Andee. My dining partner wasn’t too hungry, and ordered half a Cootie’s Club ($4.95) with a basket of homemade Spiral Potato Chips ($1.25). Our Carnivore chose Cootie’s Black & Bleu Wedge ($10.95), a quarter head of iceberg lettuce with diced tomatoes, sliced red onions and cucumbers, bleu cheese crumbles and bacon bits with Maytag Bleu Cheese dressing on the side. Oh, and a 10-ounce sirloin steak, grilled medium well.

Our Dieter, easing her metabolism into the realm of limited carbohydrate intake, went with the Warm Goat Cheese and Pesto Salad, ($8.95), where leaf lettuce, fresh greens, tomatoes, cucumbers and red onions team with a torn fresh basil and goat cheese side that’s baked until melted. Some hand-cut Roasted Sweet Potatoes ($2.95) completed her order. The Retiree, taking note of our Dieter’s weight loss progress, opted for Cootie’s classic Turkey & Cheddar sandwich ($5.95), including cranberries and fresh spinach on whole wheat ($1 extra), minus the mayo, with a fresh garden salad ($2.95) as a side order.

For myself, I chose a favorite, the Mediterranean Salad ($7.95) and one of Cootie’s Chicken Tamales ($1.75).

Our orders arrived momentarily, and it was “napkins-in-laps” time. My partner’s Club Sandwich was stacked with smoked turkey, sliced Virginia ham, Swiss and American cheeses, bacon strips, lettuce, sliced tomatoes and mayonnaise, all on toasted Italian bread.

The spiral cut chips were freshly made and really crunchy. The Carnivore’s Black & Bleu Wedge was excellent; I was able to taste both the Wedge, with its sharply flavorful Maytag dressing, and the sirloin steak was an inch thick, juicy and done to a turn.

The Retiree’s toasted Turkey & Cheddar sandwich was good; the cranberries, leafy spinach and whole wheat bread made it even better. Our dieter’s Goat Cheese & Pesto Salad was appetizing, the roasted sweet potatoes contrasting nicely with the melted goat cheese and leafy basil.

My Mediterranean Salad had changed since I’d ordered it the last time I was here. The center of the plate sported a middling-large scoop of hummus mixed with an intense dose of garlic and a more-than-sufficient dusting of paprika and cayenne pepper. Because of its central location on the plate, the hummus’ garlic-y taste managed to get into everything else, despite extensive rearrangement of vittles, and use of the accompanying Balsamic Vinaigrette dressing. The marinated artichokes were excellent, the pitted Kalamata olives less so. The rest of my meal was quite good, though the chicken tamale could have been fresher and warmer inside.

I capped my entree with a slice of Cootie’s signature Key Lime Pie ($3.95) a two-layer delight that I’d been wanting for quite a while. Getting a collective “look” from the rest of the dine-around bunch, I ordered a round of extra forks, and we all shared. The pie was good, especially the smooth bottom layer. The tart top layer was thicker than I remembered. It seemed a bit cloying and full on the tongue after two or three bites. This minor inconsistency was more than offset by the excellent real whipped cream topping and the nutty taste of the graham cracker crust. My piece of Key Lime Pie wasn’t quite how I remembered my favorite dessert, but it was doggone close. Our visit was just under $67, tax and tip included.

At 13 years in the same location, Cootie Brown’s is wearing its age well. It still serves great food with superlative service, and is still a great place for lunch or supper.

So what is stopping you from stopping by?

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