Cootie Brown’s Campus: A new and welcome neighbor to ETSU

Mystery Diner • Feb 25, 2020 at 6:15 AM

Join me as we take my Wayback Machine back to the year 1999, when Johnson City restaurateur Tony Vella converted an old produce market on North Roan Street into Cootie Brown’s. An instant success, Cootie’s soon became known for its quirky “Tramp Art” décor and “Beach T-Shirt Modern” murals, its friendly and knowledgeable wait staff and a kitchen whose culinary expertise ran the gamut from “Pub Grub” to “Creole/Cajun” to “Mexican “ to “Memphis Smoked Bar-B-Q” and back. Cootie Brown’s was THE place to eat, its loyal clientele packing the place every day from lunchtime on.

Opening when it did in 1999, Cootie Brown’s was at the forefront of north Johnson City’s growth into the go-to location for dining in the Tri-Cities. Twenty-one years later, having already been successful in Bristol, Tennessee, Cootie Brown’s has now opened its newest location on Johnson City’s West State of Franklin Road across from East Tennessee State University.

Cootie Brown’s Campus is a large and built of bricks, mortar, steel and glass, blending in well with its architectural neighborhood. The use of steel and glass is most evident in each of the structure’s big front windows, that can slide up, garage door-style, converting the front dining room into an open-air “front porch” for use when the weather is pleasant. Inside, through the double doors is the capacious main dining room with a large, well-stocked bar area at the right rear. The checkout counter is at left rear, atop the pastry display cases. Restrooms can be found nearby.

Pulled pork platter: The Retiree started things off by ordering a Cootie Brown’s pulled barbecue pork platter ($13.95) with a sweet potato, coleslaw and baked beans. The pork is a well-smoked Boston butt properly smoked and pulled to add texture, taste and all of it delicious. The Retiree’s baked sweet potato was just right. Though brown sugar was supplied, the Retiree instead ladled a spoonful or two of her baked beans and coleslaw into her spud, making the whole of her supper that much more special.

Grilled vegetable sandwich & sliced avocado: Our friend the Dieter chose a half-portion of Cootie’s grilled vegetable sandwich ($6.95) with some sliced avocado ($1.95) as her side order. Here Cootie’s takes half a French baguette roll and loads it with grilled zucchini, roasted red peppers, yellow summer squash, fresh spinach, and some fresh mozzarella. A dollop of Cootie’s basil pesto mayo was added to “amp up” the veggie medley, while fresh-sliced avocado added some smoky, creamy smoothness to the sandwich’s flavor and texture bouquet. All of it very nice, and sure to please a “something vegetarian” mood.

Cootie’s Club sandwich: My dining partner’s choice was a half order of Cootie’s Club sandwich ($7.95) with a double fistful of Cootie’s house-made spiral potato chips. Cootie’s uses half a French baguette and layers it up with smoked turkey, deli-sliced ham, Swiss & American cheeses, hickory smoked bacon, lettuce, tomato and mayo which my dining partner swapped for some spicy mustard. I found the spiral chips to be crunchy, and my taste of my dining partner’s sandwich found it to be very good indeed.

Muffaletta sandwich and gumbo: I opted for half a Cootie Brown’s Muffaletta sandwich ($7.95), sided with a cup of Cootie’s superb gumbo ($3.95). For those of you unfamiliar with the Muffaletta, this is a New Orleans sandwich made from Sicilian Muffaletta bread, split horizontally and filled with smoked pork, ham, Italian salami and provolone cheese, with Cootie’s relish subbing in for the usual olive tapenade. I found all of it quite delectable.

Cootie Brown’s version of gumbo used diced chicken breast, spicy sausage and boiled shrimp along with diced onion, garlic, bell pepper, celery and an intriguing spice medley that is simmered for a long time to get a deeply opaque, siena shade of brown. If y’all order the gumbo, spring for the bowl-sized potion instead of my coffee cup-sized portion; you will want to linger long and slow on a full bowl of Cootie Brown’s gumbo; it is that good.

Pastrami on marbled rye: While I was enjoying my half-Muffaletta and gumbo, the Carnivore was digging into a Cootie Brown’s hot pastrami sandwich ($9.95). Having spent his formative years on Long Island, New York, my meat-eating friend is a strict fundamentalist as regards the proper construction of a hot pastrami sandwich; he demanded his order on thick slices of marbled rye bread, with melted Swiss cheese, sautéed onions and brown mustard. Being a purist, the Carnivore declined all side orders save a single dill pickle spear to cleanse his palate afterwards. Cootie Brown’s kitchen rose to the challenge and made sure my friend got his supper, his way.

The bottom line: Though the dine-around bunch and I decided to leave our sampling of Cootie Brown’s dessert case for another trip, one dessert item deserves special mention here, that being Cootie Brown’s own take on Key Lime pie ($5.95 a slice). This is a tour de force of citrus; sweet, tart and smooth. A slice of the Key Lime pie is the perfect finish to everything Cootie Brown’s cooks up. If you order some, have the server bring you two forks, as your serving of Key Lime pie is big enough to share with your dining companion.

It is great to see a Johnson City landmark business like Cootie Brown’s not only grow and survive, but thrive. Their new location next to East Tennessee State University is sure develop a whole new batch of staunch supporters, and the Cootie’s success story will continue.

Cootie Brown’s-Campus
1404 W. State of Franklin Road
Johnson City
Sun-Thu 11 a.m.-9 p.m.
Fri-Sat 11 a.m.-10 p.m.
Available on Facebook, social media and at cootiebrowns.com
Credit cards accepted