It’s always nice to duck away from the bustle to find a calm spot, kick back and have a meal with friends. North Johnson City’s Mona Lisa’s Gelato & Cafe is a great place to do just that.
Located just off North Roan Street on West Oakland Avenue, Mona Lisa’s is run by Sheridan and Steve Nice, two fine folks who live up to their name.
In addition to their selection of heavenly gelato flavors (more on this treat later), they have evolved the Mona Lisa’s menu to feature healthy light fare for lunch and supper dining. This is not your run-of-the-mill “Soup ’N’ Sammich” shop, however. Sheridan’s culinary expertise means that her take on entrees, soups and sandwiches is both inspired and tasty.
I’ve had lunch here on several occasions, and made it a regular stop for gelato during the hot summer months. So it wasn’t hard to convince the rest of the dine-around bunch to meet there for an early evening bite.
Upon arrival we were greeted by Kelley and Matt, who were very helpful in explaining how to order the daily specials. This is done right next to the freezer case wherein the day’s gelato offerings are displayed. Resisting the urge to order a big spoon and have the glass front of the freezer case removed, I decided on one of the daily specials, a beef brisket panini with chips and a drink ($7.99).
My dining partner decided that the Black Forest Ham and Baby Swiss on whole wheat ($6.99) was to her liking, and got it with chips and a drink as well. Our Carnivore got another daily special, the Black Forest Ham and melted Brie combo ($7.99) on marbled rye bread, while the Dieter opted for a soup and half sandwich of Mesquite Roasted Turkey & Cheddar and a bowl of the Split Pea with Smoked Turkey soup ($9.49).
The Retiree also got the same Soup & Half Sandwich combo, changing the soup to Barley Beef. We had a guest with us who ordered Mona Lisa’s home made “Died & Gone to Heaven” Pimento Cheese on a ciabatta combo ($6.99).
The soups arrived first and the sandwiches soon followed. The Dieter’s split pea with smoked turkey soup was delivered in a cloud of steam that was almost a “pea-souper.” (Sorry, couldn’t resist.) After letting the dish cool, the Dieter took a few tentative baby sips. These soon turned into adult-sized slurps punctuated with exclamations on the soup’s flavorful bouquet and smooth texture. Her turkey & cheddar sandwich came fully dressed with fresh leaf lettuce, ripe tomato, sliced onion and mayonnaise between two slices of chewy artisan-quality wheat bread. (Did I mention that Sheridan does her own baking?)
Meanwhile, the Retiree was matching the Dieter slurp for slurp as her Barley Beef soup and sandwich combo slowly disappeared. The Carnivore’s Black Forest Ham & melted Brie cheese came fully dressed on beautifully marbled rye. Instead of wolfing it down, he took time to chew his food and enjoy the taste of it, in a most un-Carnivore-like fashion.
Serendipity smiled on me when my savory beef brisket showed up mounted on one of Sheridan’s ciabatta buns. This fortuitous change provided an excellent platform for the tender-marinated brisket, the sun-dried tomato aioli spread on both top and bottom slices and a generous helping of slivered onions in between.
My partner’s Black Forest Ham and Baby Swiss disappeared before I could get a bite, and our guest’s heaven-bound homemade pimento cheese quickly found itself singing with the Choir Invisible.
Supper finished, we wended our way back up front to that glorious freezer case, where each got a scoop of Mona Lisa’s finest for dessert. My partner got Cherry Garcia, the Dieter chose Reese’s Pieces, I got Chocolate Hazelnut, The Carnivore chose spumoni, and the Retiree got a scoop of Pumpkin Chai. Our guest special-ordered one of her favorites, and was quite pleased with the result. True to dine-around custom, everybody had a taste of everybody’s flavors and pronounced all of them “Yummy.” Sheridan and Steve change their menu every day, so it is a good idea to get on their mailing list and have them email you each day’s choices. Mona Lisa’s has a website and you can “like them” on Facebook if you’ve a mind to.
Well, I don’t need any prompting from Facebook; I like Mona Lisa’s just fine, thank you.
Mona Lisa's Gelato & Cafe, 305 W. Oakland Ave.
Hours: Monday—Thursday 11 a.m.—7 p.m.
Friday—Saturday 11 a.m.—8p.m.
Sunday Noon—7 p.m.
Credit cards accepted