Carnival Café: A great family drive destination

Mystery Diner • Updated Sep 25, 2019 at 5:48 PM

When I was growing up, my family indulged in a weekend activity known as the Family Drive. The five of us would pile into our station wagon and head out of town.

Our destination was known only to the driver. This was usually Dad, or sometimes Mom. The only rule for the Family Drive was, there had to be an eatery nearby.

Recently, my dining partner and I decided to revive the Family Drive, and give it a dine-around bunch customizing. Our road traveled was U.S. Highway 11-W, the destination was Rogersville and the eatery was Carnival Café.

Carnival Café is located on U.S. Hwy 11-W about two miles past the TN Hwy 70 turn-off to downtown Rogersville. You will see the sign before you see the restaurant building itself.

Access to and from 11-W to the restaurant is adequate and there is plenty of available parking. Inside, there is the cashier and order pick-up counter fronting a dining area with seating for 30 or so, and clean restrooms are toward the back. Carnival Café was opened for business about three years ago by the three Bennett brothers.

The menu features American pub and comfort entrees: wings, sandwiches, sausage (including the frankfurter, Italian and Polish varieties) and burgers. These last are generally 1/3rd pound of 100% beef that can be increased to ½ pound for an extra buck. The menu also offers a 1 pound Carnivore burger ($10.99) for the real burger lovers out there.

New York Style Reuben sandwich: While eyeing his namesake burger with evident interest, the Carnivore spotted Carnival Café’s New York Style Reuben sandwich ($8.99) sided with Carnival Café’s own hand-cut boardwalk fries. A question to our server Kylie confirmed that the sandwich was authentic right down to the artisan rye bread, which was good enough for the Carnivore. When it arrived, my meat-eating friend was kind enough to let me have a morsel from the stacked pile of properly corned beef, along with some nutty-flavored aged Swiss cheese, tart and tangy sauerkraut and savory rye bread. The boardwalk fries were a wonder; correctly done just like those found on the Boardwalk in Atlantic City, golden brown and crunchy on the outside, hot yet fluffy inside. Truly, like the Carnivore, I could taste the care taken in his meal.

Bacon, Lettuce & Tomato sandwich: On our way to Rogersville, the Dieter had remarked on the frequency of that my ordering bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwiches of late. I replied that it the BLT was a good benchmark when determining if the restaurant’s kitchen staff take their proper care in its preparation, or just slap it together. Nodding, the Dieter chose a BLT ($6.49) that was light on the mayonnaise. Liking the look of another diner’s order of beer-battered onion rings, the Dieter nixed her boardwalk fries, choosing instead a large order of fried onion rings ($6.99), enough to share with the rest of the table. My calorie-counting friend’s sandwich came open faced with the bacon on one of the bun slices and three fresh, green leaf lettuce leaves reclining upon a slice of red, ripe tomato with just a hint of mayo peeping round the edges. The fried onion rings were remarkable; hand-sliced into half-inch wide rings, then beer-battered and deep-fried until crunchy and aromatic as all get out.

Philly Cheese Steak sandwich: As my dining partner was pondering the choices for her supper, she noticed another diner being presented with a Philly cheesesteak sandwich of truly heroic proportions. Over two feet in length, a half-foot across and weighing in at five pounds, this sandwich was crammed with classic Philly cheesesteak ingredients: thin-sliced 100% beef steak grilled with peppers and onions, white American cheese on an Italian baguette from Philadelphia’s own Amoroso Bakery. The boardwalk fries around the edges seemed dwarfed by this Titan of the dinner table.

Turns out this was the Carnival Café Philly Cheesesteak Challenge; if the challenger could eat all of this monster within one hour, he would win the Challenge, have his name and picture added to the restaurant’s Wall of Fame and its website, and not have to pay for the meal. Fail? No photo, no Wall of Fame and his bill for the meal and the Challenge would be $49.95.

As our hero continued battling the giant and using both hands, my dining partner ordered her own regular-sized Philly Cheesesteak sandwich ($8.49). When it arrived, she enjoyed it immensely and with refinement.

Rodeo Burger: Wanting something of a burger nature, I chose a Carnival Café Rodeo Burger ($8.99). As I found the table’s fried onion rings order so appetizing, I decided to get a regular order of them ($3.59) for myself in place of the fries. The Rodeo Burger was a 1/3rd pound of 100% beef grilled well done, then topped with cheddar cheese, two additional fried onion rings three strips of smoky bacon, lettuce, and barbecue sauce. Arriving at table stacked almost eight inches tall, I proceeded slowly, deconstructing it with knife and fork and savoring every bite.

Hitting the Road: Carnival Café is a true roadside café of the classic style. The restaurant is clean and well-appointed, the service is knowledgeable, capable and friendly, and the food is prepared with care and downright delicious. It is everything that you could want in a destination for your next Family Drive. Why not take one to Rogersville and see for yourself?

Oh, and what about our fellow diner taking the Philly Cheesesteak Challenge?

What do you think?

Carnival Café

7565 US Highway 11-W

Rogersville, Tennessee


Tue-Thu 10 a.m. – 8 p.m.

Fri-Sat 10 a.m. – 9 p.m.

Available on Facebook

Credit cards accepted

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