Like most college towns, Johnson City has its traditions. Way back, when I was a callow youth supposedly studying the sciences and arts (to the frustration of my professors and the despair of my parents) the best place for aspiring ETSU undergraduates to take a study break was just off campus at Poor Richard’s on West Walnut Street. Proud I am to have been a frequent patron of “PR’s” as we called the place.
After graduating, as my friends had moved on or away, my visits became less frequent. I only stopped by when my “real world” travels took me past their door. Then came the news that Poor Richard’s was closing, accompanied by a cloud of sneering, barely-veiled comments. Why, Poor Richard’s was just another local Johnson City eatery that couldn’t adapt, couldn’t move forward, and got left behind by changing times and tastes. Not this time, fella.
Six months later, and Poor Richard’s is back. This remarkable renaissance is due to Daniel Shell and Donna Vitoux, a local couple who have put a lot of hard work and enthusiasm into restoring Poor Richard’s to its former prominence.
Have they succeeded? That was the question when the dine-around bunch dropped in recently. Walking through the big oak front doors, Poor Richard’s looks the way I remembered it. The dining room has the same comfortable ambience. My old table was still there, and the bar around the corner was still loud and fun.
Poor Richard’s menu hasn’t changed much; the old classics are still there, along with some new items that are sure to become classics.
For instance, there’s the Chicken & Cheese Quesadilla ($6.49) an item that caught my interest, especially when paired with a Mini Salad ($3.99). Naturally, my dining partner wanted to see how her old favorite was doing, and ordered a Canadian Mounty sandwich ($6.99) on Italian bread, dressed with lettuce, onions and tomato, a dill pickle spear and bag of chips on the side.
The Dieter chose Poor Richard’s classic “Better Reuben” sandwich ($6.99) on a pumpernickel bun, while the Carnivore decided on an “R.B.’s Delite” ($6.99) and a dill pickle.
Kitchen to table, our choices took less than ten minutes to arrive in the capable hands of our server Megan and her assistant Eric. As we got started, we got a welcome table-side visit from veteran chef Darryl, the creator of the collective yummy-ness before us.
The Carnivore’s R.B.’s Delite was packed with lean roast beef, Gouda cheese, and an excellent horseradish sauce. Other than the pickle, no other condiments were necessary. My Chicken & Cheese Quesadilla had just the right amount of Tex-Mex spiciness in the roasted chicken, complemented by the smooth texture and taste of the melted Colby-Jack cheese and the lettuce, tomatoes and sliced jalapeno peppers. The side of picante sauce was just right for dipping; all that was missing was a dollop of sour cream on top. Fortunately, there was plenty of ranch dressing supplied with my salad to stand in for the absent sour cream.
The Dieter’s Reuben brought back memories of long ago. Through cloudy eyes, as I rolled a bite of the corned beef and Swiss-laden wonder across my palate, I could almost see T-Bear, Doc and the rest of my fraternity brothers, our chapter flag draped proudly across our regular table, taking big bites out of PR’s larder and hollering for another pitcher of beer. Then again, both memory and cloudy eyes may have been due to the sauerkraut.
A glance showed my dining partner chewing her Canadian Mounty with studied deliberation. “Got a verdict there, counselor?” I asked. “Well,” she said between bites, “the Canadian bacon is thinner than I remember, but there is more of it, giving a more rounded smoky flavor. The cheddar cheese is really sharp, and the Italian bread’s the best ever. Daniel and Donna have nothing to worry about.”
As mentioned earlier, out back is the comfy-casual Poor Richard’s bar, centrally located to all the action. There’s a compact well-lighted stage area with lots of speakers and floor space for dancing, (folks still dance nowadays, don’t they?) and a sizable flat-screen TV to ensnare the unwary.
I couldn’t be sure, but I thought I spotted one of the venerable old pool tables Poor Richard’s inherited from the bar area’s former existence as a pool hall. If so, it must be “Antiques Roadshow” material by now.
Mr. Shell, Ms. Vitoux and their stalwarts are doing a great (and much-appreciated) job reviving a piece of ETSU campus history.
Poor Richard’s Campus
825 West Walnut St.
Mon-Sat 11 a.m. – closing
Available on Facebook
Credit cards accepted