Pennyman’s Diner: “Old-Timey” landmark gets a “New-Timey” makeover

Mystery Diner • Jan 8, 2020 at 8:00 AM

There are some restaurants that my dining partner and I visit that are special to us both. One such is everything the classic “Old-Timey” diner should be, and that is Pennyman’s Diner on East Main Street. Owner Michelle Turbyfill has made sure this Johnson City landmark has a hungry and enthusiastic clientele showing up to eat from her breakfast and lunch menus on a daily basis.

To keep ‘em coming Turbyfill recently decided to give the building a thorough renovation. Outside, the Fifties-era swimming-pool turquoise and salmon color scheme is gone, now painted a fashionable matte gray with charcoal trim. Inside, the dining area’s booths and chairs have been renovated (so no more errant seat springs sticking you someplace tender) and upholstered in a snazzy sockhop two-tone of poodle-skirt pink and black. The rear wall has some attractive, light-colored bleached maple paneling and the windows now have dark curtains.

Rest rooms are off the main dining room at the back, both are still cramped and “casual.”

Breakfast Special: Knowing we had a busy morning ahead of us, my dining partner and I naturally chose Pennyman’s Diner to start our day. As we walked through the door, we had a chance to visit with Michelle Turbyfill. After a brief discussion of the diner’s well-deserved renovation, my dining partner and I chose our usual table and checked out the menu. My dining partner ordered a Pennyman’s Breakfast Special done her way ($4.39) being two eggs over medium well, three strips of bacon and two of Michelle Turbyfill’s scratch-made biscuits. My partner also ordered a bowl of Pennyman’s authentic sawmill gravy ($1.29) to go with her breakfast. Her breakfast special was just that, especially when the three strips of crispy bacon were crumbled up, stirred into her gravy and then spooned across two hot, fluffy Pennyman’s biscuits.

Kitchen Sink omelet: Mindful of our time, and not being sure if my dining partner and I would have lunch that day, I chose one of Pennyman’s Kitchen Sink omelets ($7.99) to get my day started. This hearty omelet is well-named, being three eggs, scrambled and then filled with lots, (and I mean lots) of city ham, savory sausage, crispy bacon, diced onions, green peppers, ripe tomatoes, mushrooms, melted American cheese and just the meal to see me through to supper time, if need be.. Each forkful of the Kitchen Sink omelet had at least two of the meats and three of the vegetables from its cargo manifest, all of it tasty. Crumbling one of the biscuits and sneaking some of my dining partner’s ration of gravy added additional notes of texture and flavor that made my Kitchen Sink omelet positively scrumptious from start to finish.

Something New for 2020: As we were gathering coats and hats to face our busy day, my dining partner and I had a chance to visit with Michelle Turbyfill once more. Ms. Turbyfill confirmed that Pennyman’s Diner had created an off-menu item, this being a French toast biscuit. It is simple to make. First, split open one of their scratch-made biscuits. Second, dredge each half of the biscuit in an egg and milk batter, and then grill. Lastly, serve it on a plate and collect the compliments. I don’t know why anyone hadn’t thought of doing this sooner, and from the smiles and nods Turbyfill was getting from the other diners, French toast biscuits weren’t going to be an off-menu item for long.

The bottom line: In addition to breakfast, Pennyman’s Diner serves lunch each day, featuring specials from $6.89 such as Salisbury steak, country ham, pork tenderloin (yum) and country fried steak. They also have some of the best beans and cornbread that I’ve ever tasted ($2.89) for the hardcore hill-folk. The Pennyman’s burger ($6.39) is a substantial lunch in its own right, being topped with three kinds of cheese, mayonnaise and grilled onions. Then there is the double-decker Breakfast Club ($5.49) a stacked sandwich that has bacon, lettuce & tomato residing on the ground floor, with the upstairs loaded with sausage, egg and cheese. Two hands are needed here, both to properly enjoy your Breakfast Club sandwich and keep it from winding up in your lap.

Pennyman’s Diner is truly in a class by itself. Michelle Turbyfill’s renovations outside and inside have made sure that Pennyman’s will be an ongoing, attractive venue for breakfast and lunch. With delicacies like French toast biscuits available, Pennyman’s Diner is worth anyone’s repeat business. It certainly has my dining partner’s and my own.

Pennyman’s Diner

1409 E. Main St.

Johnson City


Mon-Sat 7 a.m. – 3 p.m.

Sun 8 a.m. – 3 p.m.

Available on Facebook

Credit cards accepted

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