Every now and then, there is a restaurant that is unique both in décor and menu, a feast for the eye as well as for the palate. Such a place is Canteen, a bright and airy little bistro just out the back door of the Johnson City Mall.
The folks who run Canteen have taken the simple lunch counter and made it better by several orders of magnitude. Faced on two sides by floor-to-ceiling windows and populated with beautiful tropical plants, twinkling lights and easy-on-the-ear background music, Canteen is just the place for a tuckered- out shopper to rest, recharge and have a bite to eat. This is what the dine-around bunch did following a strenuous Saturday morning in the shopping maelstrom just across the parking lot.
After a morning of listening to the driving beat of “shopping music” played on various store PA systems at war emergency volume, it was a relief to hear some calming jazz and soft rock tunes. Grabbing a table in the corner, the bunch sat down, ordered drinks and pondered our lunch selections.
I chose the Reuben sandwich ($7.59) and a side salad ($2.50) instead of homemade kettle chips, while my dining partner ordered the manager’s special, a Soup and Half Sandwich combo ($7.50). The Dieter tried Canteen’s Grilled Chicken Salad ($7.49) and the Retiree decided to join the Dieter and my dining partner by getting a grilled chicken salad with her soup ($7.50). Lastly, the Carnivore spotted the words “rare” and “beef” in the Roast Beef sandwich listing ($7.49) and that’s all it took.
Canteen also does very good shrimp and tuna salad sandwiches, and an excellent “Big Kid Grilled Cheese” sandwich ($6.99) where you get to choose the three cheeses that are toasted to perfection.
Don’t expect short-order speed from Canteen’s kitchen; they take time to make sure everything is just right. So, in due course our lunch orders arrived. The Carnivore’s Roast Beef sandwich was indeed rare, topped with lettuce, tomato, bleu cheese crumbles and caramelized onions. The herbed mayonnaise was a nice, though I thought unnecessary, addition to the dish.
My dining partner’s sandwich choice was turkey matched with pepper jack cheese, avocado, lettuce, bacon and tomato. The herbed mayonnaise was welcomed here. Her cup of tomato soup was good, but lacked a necessary “something” needed to boost it up to “great.” The Retiree concurred with her about the soup, though she had no problem at all with the grilled chicken salad.
After a 25-minute wait, our Dieter got her Grilled Chicken Salad and an apology from our server, who explained that the kitchen had unexpectedly run short of chicken and they’d gone shopping for more. The Dieter pronounced the wait to be worth it after tasting grilled chicken breast topping a salad of baby lettuce, almonds, goat cheese, dried cranberries, sliced fruit and Canteen’s balsamic vinaigrette with a subtle maple undertone. Unusual, but it worked well with the dish.
I enjoyed my side salad. My Reuben was classically prepared with thin-sliced corned beef, melted Swiss cheese, sauerkraut and Canteen’s homemade Russian dressing on two thin slices of seeded rye bread. It was perfection all the way down.
Canteen also makes lunch for the kids, and has a selection of desserts that change daily. They cater, and have space for meetings and parties. They also have a “fee-free” BYOB policy, so you can bring in your favorite beer, wine or whatever to enjoy with your meal, with nary a corkage fee. Canteen offers a fine meal at a fair price, with calming music in a sunlight-and-greenery-filled setting. That’s a perfect shopper’s getaway.
2020 Northpark, Suite 1A, Johnson City
Mon-Sat 11 a.m.-4 p.m.
Credit cards accepted