It is always a good thing to welcome a new restaurant to Johnson City, especially if it is owned and run by a family who are savvy enough to challenge the chain restaurants at their own game and win. Such is the case of Paragon Diner, a new neighbor from over the hill in North Carolina.
Paragon Diner has opened in Franklin Terrace Court, a space once occupied by Atlanta Bread Co. The décor is mid-20th century modern and pleasant; you get the feeling that these folks want you to stay a while and enjoy your meal.
As you walk through the front door, you are confronted by their dessert cooler where several scrumptious cakes and pies reside, just waiting for a deftly applied fork.
Though their specialty is Greek and Italian cuisine, Paragon Diner has a comprehensive menu of comfort foods. The dine-around bunch had a mid-afternoon meal there recently, and was quite pleased with the results.
The Dieter chose a Garden Omelet ($8.50) with a side order of grits and toast. The Carnivore chose a Greek Panini ($8.95) with a side salad ($2). My dining partner wanted something a bit more substantial and chose the Chicken Parmigiana ($9.95) and a side salad, while I had the Monte Cristo sandwich ($8.95) with a side of fries.
While the Carnivore and I discussed the finer points of Greek (it doesn’t have to be lamb) and Italian cuisine (red sauce is OK, but try a butter and wine sauce, especially with fish) the ladies decided to check out the dessert case one more time. By the time they got back, our meals had arrived.
The Dieter’s Garden Omelet was the perfect light fare; two eggs scrambled and folded over fresh tomatoes, green peppers, onions and mushrooms. A dash of salt and pepper was all that was needed to complete the dish.
The Carnivore’s Greek Panini was excellent, the mixed greens and tomatoes matching the saltiness of the feta cheese and the garlicky undertone of the veal and lamb gyro mixture.
I hadn’t had a proper Monte Cristo sandwich in a while and was interested to see how Paragon Diner did theirs. It has been my experience that most Monte Cristo sandwiches fall down on the French toast used as the bread; its either too soggy from being in the steamer or too tough from being parked under a heat lamp since breakfast. The correct Monte Cristo is a one-off creation, definitely made “to order,” which means grilling the French toast properly, adding the ham, Swiss cheese and sliced turkey breast and getting it to the table as fast as possible. I am happy to report that Paragon Diner’s Monte Cristo is done the right way, and was a pleasure from start to finish. Even my fries were done right.
My dining partner’s Chicken Parmigiana came with a bowl of vegetable soup, though the chicken with rice soup also looked tasty. The basket of garlic bread wafted its heady aroma through our part of the restaurant, turning a few heads. The entrée was a delight — a pounded-thin chicken breast breaded, deep-fried, served over spaghetti and topped with red sauce. Even the Parmesan cheese was freshly grated.
Sampling Paragon Diner’s dessert case was left for another visit, though I’d swear there was a slice of chocolate cake with peanut butter icing that was calling my name.
Paragon Diner does plate dinners from $8.50 featuring hamburger steak, roast turkey, homemade meatloaf and roast beef. Their Italian and Greek specialty meals are available after 4 p.m. and feature such delicacies as Mediterranean Shrimp ($13.95), Chicken Marsala ($11.95), Baked Spinach Pie ($10.95) — known properly as Spanakopita — and Salmon Scallopini ($13.95). They have a kids menu and a “Diet Delights” menu that I am going to be checking out on my next visit.
There’s a lot to choose from at Paragon Diner, which means that you’ll be coming back here at least once or twice a week to try it all.
2010 Franklin Terrace Court
Daily 6:30 a.m.-10 p.m.
Credit cards accepted