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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