Johnson City’s come a long way to be the go-to place for dining out in East Tennessee. When I first moved here way back when, all we had to choose from was one or two restaurants on the north end of town, the now long-gone Dutch Maid Drive-In on Market Street, and good old Henny Penny Chicken downtown. Fine dining? That’s what the Johnson City Country Club was for; dining with refinement required a club membership.
Today, if you are looking for fine dining in Johnson City, there are several locations. True, most are out on the north end of town, so residents on the west and south sides still had a drive if they wanted dining with refinement. Thankfully, that has been taken in hand by The Battery, just off Johnson City’s Downtown Loop.
Executive Chef Jason Vanover took the building at 601 Spring St. that once housed Sunny’s Cafeteria and gave it a complete makeover. (I wonder who has the big knife, fork and spoon that once adorned Sunny’s facade?)
I’ve had several of my friends raving about the food here, so I grabbed the dine-around bunch one evening and off we went on another dine-around adventure. I was glad I’d reserved a table; we were seated immediately and our needs seen to by Jordan, our very capable server.
The Battery’s Carolina Low Country-based menu is a paean to Chef Vanover’s culinary virtues: You limit the number of your restaurant’s entrees, you keep said entrees simple and uncluttered and you prepare them very, very well.
The menu’s specialties and steak entrees come with two side orders chosen from a list of nine, or you can get five of the top seafood specialties “Simply Grilled or Broiled” without side orders. The Battery also has a Raw Bar serving three different species of oyster; Apalachicola (the largest at $1.25 each) Blue Point ($1.75 each) and Chesapeake ($1.50 each).
In memory of his seashore upbringing, our Carnivore ordered a single Blue Point oyster as an appetizer followed with a Caesar salad ($1 extra with the meal) and then George’s Bay Scallops ($18) with broccoli and vegetable medley as the sides. My dining partner chose a mixed green salad, following it with the Chicken Scalloppine Southern Style ($12) with a baked potato and broccoli.
Our Dieter opted for the Caesar salad and the Mahi Mahi ($16) plus grilled white asparagus and the vegetable medley. The Retiree, taking the role of meat-eater, chose a 5-ounce Braveheart Angus Filet Mignon ($16) with grilled asparagus and a baked potato.
I also chose the Caesar salad and Low-Country fare, choosing the Crab Cakes ($15), adding red Bliss scalloped potatoes and bacon braised collard greens to the plate. As my beverage, a glass of Guinness ($4).
Our orders arrived and, true to dine-around form, we all had some of each dish. That is, after the Carnivore finished his Blue Point Special and sat back with a contented smile on his face. The smile became broader as he dug into his scallops; they were half-dollar-size “Imperials” and done to a turn.
The Retiree’s filet was so tender you could have cut it with a spool of thread, while the Dieter’s Mahi Mahi was firm but flaky, the dish’s sauteed capers and garlic mixing well with the white wine and parsley. My dining partner’s Scalloppine was good, though the baked potato was room temperature, definitely not as hot as it should have been.
As for my crab cakes, they were smaller than I’d envisioned crab cakes to appear. However, I was not disappointed as their principal ingredient was crab, not dolled-up bread stuffing dusted with Old Bay. The meat used here was definitely blue crab, picked, cleaned, well-mixed with crab roe, spices and served with a smooth remoulade of excellent savor.
My scalloped potatoes had just the right amount of cheese and cream in the gratin, while the bacon-laced collard greens had me wanting seconds. Jordan was at his unobtrusive best, serving us an excellent meal in comfortable surroundings.
While we were settling up, Jordan got everyone’s attention by mentioning that Chef Vanover was phasing out the Friday and Saturday night buffets in favor of an all-you-can-eat Sunday Brunch. Naturally, my dining partner and I volunteered to check it out the following Sunday and were not disappointed. Chef Vanover’s team had converted the back dining room into a buffet line, featuring fresh salad items, including a number of artisan cheeses and cold cuts. There were several breakfast items, notably aged cheddar cheese grits, biscuits with andouille sausage gravy, both link and patty sausages, excellent scrambled eggs, and a Belgian waffle station.
The lunch side had three carving stations featuring deep-fried turkey, Angus roast beef and marinated pork loin, all excellent. Also available were an array of savory vegetables, a variety of desserts and fresh fruit. The bar was serving up Mimosas at a dollar a glass, and $3 Bloody Mary’s, both professionally prepared and the make-em-yourself type. Priced at $15 per person, this is a great value in a Sunday Brunch buffet, especially one that showcases the talents of Chef Jason Vanover and his team at The Battery.
The Battery, 601 Spring St.
Johnson City, Tenn
Hours: Tues.—Sat. 4 p.m.-close
Sun. 11 a.m.-2 p.m.