Jonesborough is a lovely place. Whether you are a history buff, a foodie, a shopper, culture buff, or just out for adventure, Jonesborough’s got what you are looking for.
Though the town has several businesses that are long-time residents, the life span of most restaurants within the city’s limits is that of a soap bubble. Yours truly has eaten at charming establishments that were there one week and gone the next. This can be a problem for a restaurant reviewer.
Luckily, The Dining Room is one restaurant that not only prospers, but has a steadily growing clientele of loyal followers. Located in the old city hall building at the east end of Jonesborough’s historic district, The Dining Room has seating for about 20 people inside, so calling in a reservation well ahead of your arrival is a good idea.
It also makes sense to arrive with a topic of conversation in hand and your patience dispenser fully charged, as each dish at The Dining Room is prepared to order. If they are busy, as they were when our dine-around bunch arrived, the ensuing wait could be as much as 30 minutes or more. Don’t fret, enjoy yourselves; this is one instance where the wait is worth the effort.
The Dining Room’s specialty is healthy cuisine of a decidedly Cuban bent, which is definitely different from the creations found in your typical Tex-Mex establishment. After a brief consultation with our server Heather, my friends and I made our selections. My dining partner took Heather’s advice and ordered the Cuban Mix sandwich ($8), shredded roast pork, dill pickles, aged Swiss cheese and mustard grilled on fresh Cuban bread, with a side of black beans and jasmine rice. Our dieter friend, now able to add limited carbohydrates to her diet plan, ordered the roast pork platter ($14) choosing both the beans and rice and avocado salad for her side dishes.
Our other friend was intrigued by the Ropa Vieja sandwich ($8), and ordered it along with a side asiago peppercorn salad. Having had empanadas while traveling abroad, I opted for the Empanadas Picadillo ($6) as a starter, and then chose the Asiago Chicken Salad sandwich ($7.50) with a Nuts & Berries side salad.
In due course, my empanadas appeared — two hot, crisp meat pastries stuffed with the picadillo, a slow-roasted chopped beef, well-mixed with onions, green peppers, spices and served with a roasted corn and black bean salsa. Shared round the table, the empanadas were a hit especially with the corn/bean salsa added in. As we were finishing up, our main course arrived. Ropa vieja means “old ropes” in Spanish, an apt description of the way the sandwich’s slow-cooked roast beef just seemed to fall apart in its sofrito stew mixture. The added lettuce, tomato and red onion matched the crisp crunch of the sandwich’s pressed French baguette. The accompanying chimichurri sauce added an excellent tangy spice note, while leaving just the right amount of spice heat behind to remind you of every savory bite.
On our dieter’s platter, the roasted pork was done to a turn, well-matched by the avocado salad. The surprise was her black bean and jasmine rice dish; the black beans were cooked through but still firm, while the jasmine rice was steamed properly, adding a delicate nutty and floral undertone to the dish.
My Chicken Asiago Salad sandwich had shredded chicken breast mixed with the Dining Room’s home made Asiago Peppercorn dressing, dressed with fresh lettuce, tomato and red onion, all on a light-as-air croissant. My Nuts & Berries salad featured three kinds of nuts mixed with blueberries, cherries, cranberries and feta cheese, lightly dressed with a light and happy pomegranate vinaigrette, the better to counter the pungency of the aged Asiago cheese in the chicken salad.
Taking dine-around top honors for the evening was my dining partner’s Cuban Mix sandwich. There is something almost magical about the way slow-roasted pork, aged Swiss cheese, good ol’ yellow mustard and cold, crunchy dill pickles can get put together and make a great-tasting sandwich.
Trust our friends at the Dining Room to cap it by using authentic Cuban bread. They press and grill the sandwich until the bread’s inside resembles a stack of soft, chewy puff pastry leaves and the outside is crispy-hard. Taking a bite is a multimedia event for your senses. You have a symphony of savory aromas and mouth-watering tastes vying for your attention against crunchy chewing enjoyment so loud it sounds like fireworks inside your head.
Our dinner for four totaled just under $55, tax and drinks included. Regretfully, we had to pass on the Dining Room’s desserts for the evening (key lime pie and tres leches cake, no less). As we left I noticed that their storied cookie basket was empty, but Heather assured me it would be full by lunch the following day. I took this as a good omen for The Dining Room’s longevity, one Jonesborough restaurant that will be around and enjoyed for a long time.