It is not often you find a restaurant that thinks enough of you to pave your way inside with coin of the realm, or invites you to stare at the ceiling while waiting for your order to arrive. Patrons can experience both, and more, at north Johnson City’s latest dining indulgence, The Local Kitchen & Wine Bar.
The Local is the latest creation of Christina Vella, whose décor and cuisine talents have been the driving force behind two other successful local restaurants. At The Local, the food is tasty, the wine list is substantial and the décor has to be seen to be believed.
The dine-around bunch’s entry to the restaurant was slower than normal, as the rest of the bunch had to wait when I spotted a World War II-era steel penny underfoot. Vella’s daughter, Gabrielle, was working the desk, confirmed my reservation (recommended by the way) and guided us to a table tucked cozily behind the dessert cooler.
Our server, Kestinie, made some recommendations before taking our orders.
I started with the charcuterie and cheese board ($9.50) as an appetizer for the table, then selected the shrimp and grits ($10.50) as my entrée. I wanted a sparkling wine to go with my meal, but Kestinie suggested I try a glass of white wine instead ($5).
Since the kitchen serves breakfast all day, my dining partner opted for the country breakfast ($8.50). The Carnivore was eating light, ordering the Classic Bennie ($7) version of eggs benedict. The Retiree, liking the Carnivore’s choice but not its filling, decided on the Veggie Bennie, ($7), same structure, but substituting vegetables and herbs for meat. The Dieter had a hankering for pizza, and picked The Popeye ($12).
The charcuterie and cheese board arrived first. It included a mix of Mortadella, air-cured prosciutto and hard salami of equally-firm Genoese provenance. The meats were paired with a matchbook-sized cube of cheddar, some Jarlsberger Swiss, a very nice wedge of room-temperature brie and some slices of French bread.
My 2012 duTorri pinot grigio, meanwhile, was smooth on the palate and aromatic with a pleasing waft of new-mown grass.
While awaiting our meals, we assessed Vella’s success with the restaurant décor.
The place is a masterpiece of repurposing. Our tabletop was made from the alley wood salvaged from the recently departed Leisure Lanes. The mirror on the wall next to our table was supported by two different 1930s vintage chrome and porcelain bathroom taps. As for the ceiling, it features empty wine bottles threaded onto steel rods and hung lengthwise. I was having fun spotting familiar wine labels when our orders arrived.
The Carnivore’s Classic Bennie was just that, Canadian bacon and a poached egg on an English muffin drizzled with hollandaise, a light, but filling, meal. The hollandaise was fresh-made, too. The Retiree was pleased with her Veggie Bennie; the sauté of spinach, tomato and onion (but no avocado) complementing the egg as well.
The Dieter’s 14-inch Popeye pizza was a treat for the whole table. We all liked the mix of the ricotta and mozzarella cheeses with the acidity of the roasted tomato and the astringency of the fresh spinach leaves, roasted garlic and onions. The tomato sauce used as a base was adequate to the task, but unremarkable.
The shrimp and grits were something of a puzzle.
The tastes of fresh scallions, mushrooms, grape tomatoes and several good-sized chunks of artisan-quality bacon added to the slightly cheesy grits were a delight to the palate, though the grits should have been cooked longer. The problem really came with the shrimp being mixed into the grits. While this isn’t unusual, most places do not leave the tails on the shrimp, which was the case here. Extraction of shrimp from tail requires use of fingers. Covering the shrimp completely in the grits makes for a rather messy experience.
My dining partner’s country breakfast was good, especially the combination of the country ham and herbed red potatoes. Being a picky sort about how her fried eggs are prepared, my dining partner said her eggs needed some work and the results were not encouraging.
We decided to forego dessert, which took some doing on my part as I’d spotted a hefty slice of lime pound cake leering at me suggestively as I walked in.
The Local Kitchen & Wine Bar should have these few “new restaurant” issues ironed out by the time you read this.
Vella has brought something truly different to Johnson City, and is quite sure it will succeed. How sure? There is valet parking already in place — looks like Vella is expecting a crowd.
The Local Kitchen & Wine Bar
3119 Bristol Highway Suite #108, Johnson City
Tue. – Thu. 11 a.m. – 11 p.m.
Fri. – Sat. 11 a.m. – 1 a.m.
Sun. 11 a.m. – 3 p.m.
Available on Facebook
Credit cards accepted.