Route 36 Grill: Classic comfort cooking and a vegan delight

Mystery Diner • Mar 9, 2020 at 8:22 AM

Once upon a time, there was a nice little building that was a successful restaurant. Hungry people would come to visit the nice little building, eat, and enjoy the food and friendly service. They would go home and tell their friends what a great place the restaurant in the nice little building was. Their friends would visit, dine, tell their friends, and so on. The nice little building became a very popular place, and everyone knew of it.

One day, the restaurant owner decided to retire, closing the restaurant’s doors for the last time. After months left alone, the nice little building didn’t look so nice anymore. It looked forlorn.

Then, Mr. Yared Desalega from Kingsport happened by, took one look at the forlorn little building and decided to open his new restaurant there. Desalega fixed up the forlorn little building, then opened his new restaurant and named it after the highway the nice little building sat beside: the Route 36 Grill.

Route 36 Grill is located on Tenn. Highway 36 (North Roan Street) in north Johnson City. The building has been renovated, sporting a pleasant sage paint job trimmed in grass green. Inside, the takeout counter faces a dining area that seats 60 customers at sturdy tables. The kitchen entrance is to the left rear, while restrooms are found at the right.

Bleu Burger: It was the Carnivore who contacted the rest of the dine-around bunch about a supper visit. We were shown to our table by our server Keeva. The Carnivore was most interested in Route 36 Grill’s Bleu Burger ($9.99), a one-third pound hamburger served up with a good helping of bleu cheese, topped with lettuce, tomato, dill pickle, onion straws and sided with scratch-made French fries. After enjoying a few bites, the Carnivore said his Bleu Burger and fries suited his taste buds just fine.

Classic 36 Burger: The Retiree also wanted a burger, choosing the Classic 36 Burger ($7.99) for her supper, with French fries as her side order. The Classic 36 Burger grilled is a one-third pound all-beef burger. The Retireee added lettuce, tomato, onion and pickle: Our friend also had some ketchup nearby to dip her French fries in; truly a “Classic” indeed.

BLT with cornbread salad: My mood also started with a “B,” though my “B” didn’t stand for “Burger.” Mine meant “Bacon” as in a half-pound bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwich that the Route 36 Grill offers ($8.99). They pile half a pound of smoked bacon on Texas Toast along with fresh leaf lettuce and sliced ripe Roma tomatoes. I traded my fries for a side order of Route 36 Grill’s cornbread salad. A half-pound BLT is best eaten with a knife and fork. Picking this BLT up with your two hands will get bacon on your tummy instead of in it. Sadly, I found my side order of cornbread salad too crumbly and bland.

Philly cheese steak sub sandwich with fries and mac & cheese: My dining partner decided on a Philly cheese steak sub sandwich ($8.99) and added a side order of Route 36 Grill’s macaroni & cheese ($2.49). My partner’s Philly sub was thin-sliced steak grilled with onions, topped with melted cheese and delicious from start to finish. However, her macaroni & cheese was more cheese than macaroni and too cloying for her taste.

Ethiopian Vegan Dinner: The Dieter asked if Route 36 Grill would have something that was both vegan and gluten-free? Our server Keeva said yes, that they offered an Ethiopian Dinner ($14.99) off-menu for just such a circumstance. Remembering the dine-around bunch motto to “Eat Fearlessly,” the Dieter said “OK.” The Ethiopian Dinner starts with injera bread, a large tortilla-like flatbread made with gluten-free teff flour. This evening’s vegan dinner was abesha gomen (Ethiopian-style collard greens) misir alicha (green lentil stew), kik alicha (yellow split pea stew), yemsir wat (red lentil stew) and atakilt wat (boiled cabbage, potato and carrots).

After using the injera to scoop up some kik alicha and atakilt wat properly (tradition requires you use the fingers of the right hand, not the left) the Dieter asked the rest of us to try some, The Carnivore, too involved with his Bleu Burger, took no notice. As for the rest of us, I particularly liked the cabbage, potato and carrots and the red lentil stew, while my dining partner and the Retiree favored the yellow split pea stew and the collard greens. The dine-around bunch pronounced the Ethiopian Vegan Dinner to be the hit of the evening.

The bottom line: Owner Yared Desalega has brought a new restaurant to Johnson City that has a delicious and unique cuisine served in comfortable surroundings by a pleasant and knowledgeable staff. By using classic offerings like burgers, sandwiches and the like, Desalega gets the dining public in the door, and then shows them that, yes, there are other equally delicious and ethnic creations like his Ethiopian Vegan Dinner available to try. And so, Route 36 Grill’s menu would continue to evolve and the restaurant would be successful.

Oh, and the nice little building?

In my rear view mirror as we were driving away, I’d swear it was smiling at me.

Route 36 Grill

3301 N. Roan St.

Johnson City


Tue-Sat 11 a.m.-9 p.m.

Sun 11 a.m.-6 p.m.

Available on Facebook

Credit cards accepted

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