Red Meze – A Hidden Gem In Johnson City, Tennessee

by Jennifer Muller

 

I like to think of myself as somewhat of a foodie nerd. I travel to eat. Prior to traveling, I scour the internet attempting to create a foodie itinerary for the ideal dining experience. I raise my research standards to an even higher scale when I relocate to a new area. When I moved to Johnson City, TN two years ago, I followed my normal method to find every potential outstanding eatery available in Johnson City. Even with my extensive search, Red Meze somehow eluded me. I happened upon it a few months after moving here while scrolling down my Facebook feed. Shocked that I could have overlooked authentic Turkish cuisine, I immediately drove down there and happily discovered Johnson City’s best kept secret gem.

 

 

Red Meze (formerly The Mediterranean Garden) is located at 2203 McKinley Road in Johnson City, TN. It is housed in Burlington Park, a refurbished old textile mill that is now a housing and commercial mixed-use building. I find the GPS coordinates usually take people to the opposite side of the building, making it difficult to find the restaurant. The easiest way to get there is to turn onto W. Walnut Street from N State of Franklin Rd. and drive past McKinley Rd. You will then see Red Meze on your right. Please do not do what I did my first time trying to find it and get so turned around that you end up driving through the empty field next door.

 

 

This is one of the restaurants I have been raving about to Danielle and Rich, so I was honored to meet them for lunch one Sunday. We told the server that we were vegan and soon the owner, Sengel, came out of the kitchen to discuss the vegan options and answer all our questions. According to Sengel, the first page of the main menu is or can be, vegan except for her Tzatziki sauce – a sour cream based sauce, and the Sigara Boregi – pan-fried dough stuffed with feta cheese. The back of the menu had a few sandwiches which were either vegan or could be with some minor modifications.

 

 

There is a separate Classic Turkish Home Cooking menu that has two options which can be vegan. The Eggplant Yogurt Kebab can be made without the yogurt sauce on top. The Turkish Veggie Stew is vegan, but Sengel informed us the rice that comes with it contains butter.

We asked Sengel if she keeps the meat separated from the vegan items and she informed us that the meat is grilled and kept in the back of the kitchen, while the vegetables are kept in the front of the kitchen to prevent cross-contamination. She also uses organic ingredients when possible.

 

Hummus, Falafel and Baba Ghanoush with Pita Wedges

 

Now to the food. I have dined here several times and have tried many items on the menu, and I have to say, that they do amazing things with eggplant. The eggplant here is so flavorful, and unlike any eggplant I have eaten elsewhere. My favorite menu item here is the Baba Ganoush – a Turkish eggplant dip served with pita. On this occasion, I ordered the lentil soup & pita, which is just a combination of lentil, onions, and spices. I also ordered the garden-three platter that had the falafel, garlic hummus, and baba ganoush. Everything I ate was light and flavorful. As usual, I could have eaten multiple orders of baba ganoush.

 

Lentil Soup

 

Danielle ordered the eggplant pita without feta. The lack of feta was replaced with additional eggplant to compensate. I enjoy introducing people to new restaurants they grow to love, so I was a bit nervous introducing Danielle to my recommendation. Fortunately, she raved on about how delicious the sandwich was with the combination of flavors and that she wished she had ordered two.

 

Grilled Eggplant Pita with Hummus

 

Rich ordered the Turkish veggie stew on the Classic Turkish Home Cooking menu. They replaced the vegetarian rice with pita. The stew was stocked full of vegetables with a tomato-based sauce. I had a bite and decided that if I could ever do without their eggplant, I would order that.

 

 

Turkish Veggie Stew

 

We finished off the meal with the excellent Turkish coffee served in demitasse cups. Turkish coffee is unfiltered coffee served sweet with a variety of spices. The trick is to drink the coffee until you reach the coffee grounds at the bottom of the cup, and then stop before drinking the grounds. The rich, sweetened, spiced coffee was a perfect end to the meal.

 

 

Red Meze is open from Tuesday to Saturday from 11:00 am – 9:00 pm and on Sunday from 11:00 am – 2:30 pm. The phone number is (423) 328-7685. Red Meze can also be found on Facebook.

 

Originally from Louisville, KY, Jennifer now resides is East Tennessee. Jennifer and her daughter are avid travelers searching for new healthy vegan dishes along the way. When she is not globe-trotting, Jennifer enjoys cooking spicy vegan meals at home with her two fur-babies; her dog, Amy, and her cat, Anna. Contact Jennifer directly to share your restaurant finds, make a comment, or just say hello.

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Green Olive Market and Café

By Jennifer Muller

 

Earlier this year, I noticed a new market called The Green Olive Market had opened in Johnson City, TN. My interest was piqued and I made a mental note to stop by, but I had not yet gotten around to doing so. Word-of-mouth started to travel that a few weeks ago, The Green Olive was serving Ethiopian food!

 


The owner, Meseret Melesse (Marci), is a delightful bundle of energy. She is currently in the “soft-opening” phase of operation until the final preparations can be made. For now, she cooking the dishes fresh each morning and serving them buffet style. Once she has her kitchen fully operational, she is planning a grand opening, at which point she will be offering a sit-down menu while possibly keeping the buffet as a special twice a month event.

 


Of the roughly fifteen items on the buffet, all but five or so were vegan. Some of the vegan options on her buffet were Miser W’at – a semi-spicy red lentil stew,  Kik Alitcha W’at – mild stew of yellow split-peas, Gomen – collard greens, Alitcha Vegetables – a delicious stew of cabbage and carrots, and an excellently made Shiro W’at – a stew made from chickpeas that are sundried, roasted, and ground. The buffet also provided plenty of freshly-made injera – a spongy Ethiopian flatbread – with which to eat all the delicious items. Ethiopian food is not served with utensils, you eat it with the bread. However, utensils are provided if you prefer not to eat with your hands.

 

 


The food was authentic and flavorful, though I tend to enjoy food that is spicier than most people like. After the grand opening, I hope there are spice level options. Other than that, the taste is delicious. There is also a traditional coffee service from 3 pm – 7 pm on Saturday and Sunday. I experienced this service and was treated to the strong, flavored-packed goodness of freshly roasted coffee.

 


During the soft opening phase, the hours are 12:30 pm – 8 pm. After the grand opening, the hours will be 11 am – 9 pm. Veggin’ Out and About! will be following the progress of the grand opening and will report more in detail as that occurs.

Located at 800 West Market St in Johnson City, The Green Olive is roughly 3 miles off Exit 20 on -26. Drive towards ETSU until Roan becomes Market Street. You’ll see it on the right-hand side of the road.

Originally from Louisville, KY, Jennifer now resides is East Tennessee. Jennifer and her daughter are avid travelers searching for new healthy vegan dishes along the way. When she is not globe-trotting, Jennifer enjoys cooking spicy vegan meals at home with her two fur-babies; her dog, Amy, and her cat, Anna. Contact Jennifer directly to share your restaurant finds, make a comment, or just say hello.

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Mona Lisa Gelato & Café

by Danielle Bussone

 

 

It seems that small strip malls are where it’s at these days for discovering quaint little restaurants serving up big flavors. Mona Lisa’s Gelato & Café has been around for seven years.  In Johnson City, TN, it is located at 305 W. Oakland Ave., a connecting street between Roan and State of Franklin, only a mile or so from I-26.

I’m appalled to learn I’ve driven by Mona Lisa’s about a million times without giving it a second thought. Since becoming a plants-only eater, I tune out anything that smacks of dairy or meat. Recently a  reader of Veggin’ Out and About! turned me on to this little jewel.

 

 

Mona Lisa’s is owned and operated by Sheridan and Steve Nice. Sheridan is the chef and recipe creator, and Steve handles marketing, social media, and other such concerns. The two operate an organic garden and have taught a local orphanage how to farm organically. The often trade their homemade gelato for organic produce from the orphanage, which then goes into building their daily menu items. Mona Lisa’s may well be the only garden to table restaurant operating in Johnson City today.

 

 

While the menu is mostly geared to the carnivorous crowd, there are a few items for vegans and vegetarians.

 

 

I ordered the Vietnamese Bahn Mi sandwich. This is not typically a vegan dish, but they substituted the meat for tofu to accommodate my needs.

I have to say; it is unlike any Bahn Mi I’ve ever experienced. The French colonization of Vietnam introduced aspects of French cuisine to the country’s culinary heritage. Traditional ingredients of Bahn Mi include a French roll or baguette smeared with some kind of mayonnaise or creamy sauce followed by layers of cucumber, cold cuts, or another meat filling (or tofu),  sweet and sour carrot and daikon pickles, a layer of jalepeños, and finally a good portion of fresh cilantro. Mona Lisa’s Bahn Mi was nothing like that.

 

 

This sandwich was more like a panini, with a crisp flattened bread, fermented vegetables, fresh jalapeños, tofu, and cilantro. If you ordered this sandwich expecting to receive a traditional Bahn Mi, you might be disappointed. However, your disappointment will be short-lived once you bite into this little taste of heaven. The crisp bread and crunchy fermented veggies marry beautifully with the soft texture of the tofu and the pungency of the cilantro in a way that surprises and delights. I think this tasty little sandwich deserves a name of its own!

 

 

Rich ordered the Thai Noodle Bowl. Thai rice noodles are served in a vegetable soup of carrots, cauliflower, broccoli, and fresh jalepeños drizzled throughout with spicy sriracha sauce. Sheridan is one of the few chefs in the Tri-Cities area who is not afraid to add heat to a dish that calls for heat. Too often, restaurants cater to the boring middle of the road in an attempt to appeal to a larger audience. The price that is paid that the international experience gives way to the staid preferences of the majority. Mona Lisa’s Thai Noodle Bowl has a kick that will make your eyes water!

 

 

At first, we didn’t even look at the gelato bar. Since we don’t eat dairy, we didn’t feel that was an option. However, Steve scooped up some blood orange sorbetto for us that was dairy-free and OMG delicious! This was something that was being whipped up in the kitchen and had not yet been brought out to the gelato bar. Unfortunately, you’ll have to take my word for it. We scarfed that down before we thought to take pictures.

Typically, there is at least one vegan sorbetto option with flavors like pink grapefruit, key lime, lemon cello, blood orange, or tangerine.

 

 

 

Don’t wait seven years before you check out Mona Lisa’s Gelato & Café in Johnson City, TN. It’s about a mile from I-26 from the State of Franklin exit, turn left to go under the overpass, and then right onto Oakland Ave. It’s right next to The Mellow Mushroom.

 

Co-founder and editor of Veggin’ Out and About!, Danielle writes restaurant reviews, profiles, and interviews of people making a difference in the plant-based community. She is the author of, “Time For Change: Whole Foods For Whole Health,” and is a co-founder of the plant-based cooking blog, Time For Change Kitchen. Contact Danielle directly to share your restaurant finds, to make comments or just to say hello.

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