Looking for some good eats and delectable treats in Jonesborough, Tennessee's oldest town? Learn to eat like a local and try out all of these excellent places we visited on a recent trip to the area. Got a question? Hit me up on Instagram @ebrowniebites.
Main Street Cafe & Catering
Location: 117 W Main Street Jonesborough TN, 37659
Quick Glimpse: Fresh soups and salads, house-ground American Angus beef burgers, sandwiches and wraps, fresh dessert case
Main Street Cafe has a lovely location in downtown Jonesborough. Open 11am - 3pm (4pm on Saturdays, closed Sunday), it's an ideal place to stop for lunch while walking around the town.
There's plenty of comfortable seating inside. I adore the historic pressed metal ceilings and original crown molding in these old buildings.
I ordered the 1st Avenue Salad - oven-roasted chicken, sweet and spicy walnuts, blue cheese, dried cranberries, and a parmesan and herb mix sprinkled on a bed of greens. This was one of the best salads I have ever had in my life. I ordered it with the house-made poppyseed dressing and it was perfect. They're not stingy with those delicious walnuts and I appreciated that the blue cheese arrived as a solid wedge instead of crumbles, so I could use my fork to get little bits of it with each bite to keep it from overpowering the other flavors in the salad.
Matt ordered the Black Bean Burger - a black bean patty with Gouda cheese and roasted red pepper Romesco sauce on an everything brioche bun. Though Matt usually goes for the full beef options when ordering a burger, the flavors in this one were calling to him and he wanted to give it a try.
There's flavor coming from every corner of this burger - the black bean patty was juicy and the red pepper Romesco with plenty of melted Gouda was a mouth bomb of spicy goodness. But that's not all, because this burger is slammed between an Everything brioche bun. The rich and buttery bun with the onion, garlic, poppy, and sesame flavors makes this burger one that you don't want to miss.
When doing research before our trip, we learned that the coconut cream pie was not to be missed, so we went ahead and pre-ordered it with our lunch. I'm glad we saved room for this, because it's a showstopper. From the tender flaky pie crust and dense tropical custard filling to the mountain of creamy topping and toasted coconut, it's way too easy to eat.
Though there is not a specific kids' menu, Main Street Cafe does offer peanut butter & jelly and grilled cheese sandwiches for under $4. We ordered the PBJ for Jasper and it arrived with potato chips. It was a great price for a lot of food for a toddler.
Location: 1200 East Jackson Blvd Jonesborough, TN 37659 (closest to Jonesborough)
522 Jonesborough Road Erwin, TN 37650 (a bit farther south, but convenient to where we stayed. This is the actual location we visited)
There are 29 Pal's located across northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia (find them)
Quick Glimpse: breakfast: variety of biscuits, cheddar rounds (mini hashbrowns) lunch & dinner: burgers, sandwiches, fries, and hot dogs
Pal's is a beloved regional chain and though I've lived in East Tennessee my whole life, it has taken me 34 years to actually visit one. While doing research for our Jonesborough trip I learned a lot about the company and just how stinkin' cool their whole business model is. Here's just a few things that make them unique in the fast food world: they are drive-thru only with no indoor seating, and you give your order to an actual person - no speakers - to ensure a higher rate of accuracy with your order. The menu is limited and simple so that they can excel at those items. And you can't miss the colorful, friendly buildings with a whole meal plastered right on the front. Oh, and if you email the company? The CEO himself, Thom Crosby, will be the one that responds. We do not have a Pal's here in Knoxville but I have a few friends who are from or who have visited the Tri-Cities areas and they never stop raving about this place!
I had the chipped ham sandwich - a 96% fat free sliced ham with lettuce and pickles (can be ordered with or without mayo and cheese). I felt like I was eating a sandwich fresh from a deli and found it to be extremely filling and satisfying without making me feel bogged down. I ordered it without mayo to lighten it up a bit and added my own mustard at our campsite. The Frenchy fries were crispy and well-seasoned - some of the best fast food fries I've ever had!
Pal's does not offer specific kids' meals, so we ordered Jasper a junior cheeseburger with Frenchy fries. It was great for him, though I'll point out that the burger did come fully loaded (lettuce, tomato, onion, and mayo) so if you're ordering a burger for a little one, you can ask that those things be removed if needed.
Matt ordered the chili burger - a ⅓lb beef patty with chili, cheese, and onions (can be ordered with bacon). Matt described it as a delicious cross between a Sloppy Joe and a cheeseburger and said the burger was juicy, the beef flavorful, and that it was "like fast food, but kicked up a few levels in the quality department". He's an onion lover (as am I) and was all about the crunchy bite they added to the burger. He agreed that the Frenchy fries were fast food primo.
As an extra, because we really wanted to taste it, we ordered a Sauceburger - an all beef patty covered in Pal's famous sauce, which I would describe as a smoky barbecue-ish sauce with a ketchup base and a similar texture. The sauce is a little spicy but doesn't have too much heat, so those with sensitive palates needn't worry too much. Though perhaps a bit messy if you're eating on the road, this was one tasty burger and it's not hard to see why that sauce is famous among fans of Pal's.
Not pictured - we also tried an unsweetened chai Tea (raspberry is also available) because you can't go to a Southern-based fast food chain and not try the tea (spoiler alert: you should try it, too). We also tried a vanilla milkshake, an honest to goodness dairy-based shake that almost had the granulated texture of a Wendy's Frosty.
The Black Olive
Location: 125 E Jackson Blvd Ste 8 Jonesborough, TN 37659
Quick Glimpse: Affordable house-made Italian dishes including pizzas, stromboli, calzone, and classic pasta dishes. Lunch menu available. Covered outdoor patio open on good weather days and there's plenty of parking onsite.
Upon recommendation, we started with a basket of garlic knots served with a marinara dipping sauce. The knots can be ordered plain or stuffed with cheese. Wanting to stick with the basics, we ordered ours plain. I liked that the knots were quite small, though it'll take a bit of willpower to eat only a few, because they are fantastic! The inside: tender, piping hot. The outside: perfectly golden and slightly chewy, brushed with garlic butter and dusted with Parmesan.
I ordered the chicken Marsala - a generous portion of chicken breast sauteed with mushrooms in a Marsala sauce and served over a bed of fettuccine. This was a huge and generous plate of food and though it's hard to tell from the photo, there's an absolute mountain of fettuccine buried under there. The chicken was tender and juicy and as a lover of mushrooms there were plenty of them.
Matt ordered the Deluxe Calzone filled with pepperoni, hamburger, sausage, mushrooms, onion, green pepper, and mozzarella cheese. They come in 3 sizes and this is the small... it's huge and more than enough for one person! Our waitress joked about the reactions she gets when someone orders a medium or larger.
This was the stand-out of the two dishes. The calzone was stuffed with ooey gooey melted mozzarella with generous portions of the triple meats and veggies. The outside was just the right amount of crispy and chewy and is finished off with a brush of homemade garlic butter and sprinkle of Parmesan. If I lived in Jonesborough I could see myself visiting The Black Olive whenever I needed my fix of pizza, calzone, or stromboli. I recommend this dish if you're visiting the area.
We saved a little room for dessert, because we were told that the house made tiramisu is really something special. After tasting it, I have to agree. It's huge, so bring a friend or three to finish it, or just go ahead and ask for a takeout box for the leftovers when you order it. The coffee flavor is quite mild and may appeal to those who otherwise shy away from this dessert. The texture is phenomenal with the combo of layers of soft soaked ladyfingers and the smooth whipped custard. It's deceptively light, making it a nice choice for something sweet after a heavier Italian meal.
You can't visit an Italian restaurant and not try the cannoli, so here we are. Isn't the presentation gorgeous? We almost didn't want to eat them! The dish comes with both a plain and chocolate cannoli. The pastry shells had a good solid crunch to them and were the perfect vehicle for the thick filling made with sweetened ricotta cheese, cream cheese, and chocolate bits. My favorite was the plain and Matt's favorite was the chocolate, but we agreed that neither of them was too cloying.
JJ's Eatery & Ice Cream
Location: 107 E Main St Jonesborough, TN 37659
Quick Glimpse: Open for lunch and dinner, later for ice cream (check Facebook for hours). Serves hand-dipped ice cream with various toppings, shakes and floats, and a cafe menu with burgers, sandwiches, hot dogs, fries, and salads.
We found ourselves at JJ's while wandering around Main Street and were drawn in by the mint and pink decor on the inside. The exposed brick and pressed metal ceiling of the historic building is the perfect pairing with JJ's old-fashioned ice cream bar with soda shop bar stools, black and white floor, and even part of an ice cream truck.
JJ's has a cafe menu available for lunch and dinner which serves a variety of cold and hot sandwiches, burgers, hot dogs, and salads. We just popped in for a treat so we didn't get a chance to try the food, though we witnessed several locals stop by to pick up takeout orders, making me think it's a popular spot for a quick lunch for those working or living nearby.
The ice cream bar was colorful and adorable with a handwritten menu and canisters of fun toppings lined up in a row. There were about a dozen different flavors of ice cream available as well as shakes (malted available) and floats.
We each chose a single cup of ice cream, chocolate java chip and pumpkin, because I was feelin' the pretty autumn decor downtown and wanted to try a seasonally-appropriate flavor to keep those good feelings flowing. Both flavors were wonderful and perfectly creamy, though we all agreed, little Jasper included (we all shared the ice cream), that the pumpkin was the winner. JJ's will make a coffee float with any of the ice cream flavors - can you imagine a coffee float with pumpkin ice cream? Move over, PSL!
The Corner Cup
Location: 148 E Main St Jonesborough, TN 37659
Quick Glimpse: Hot and iced coffee, cold brew, espresso drinks, tea, local baked goods and fresh hot savory or sweet crepes (Krazy Krepes) made to order Thursday thru Saturday 9a-3p
It's useless to resist the pull of a quaint local coffee shop in a historic area, so that's how we ended up at The Corner Cup for not one, but two visits during our stay. The quirky, friendly interior and mismatched seating drew us in along with the intoxicating aroma of coffee and the sounds of grinders, milk frothers, and quiet conversation.
Along with the legal addictive stimulants, The Corner Cup has a side table stocked with goodies from local bakers such as cookies, scones, muffins, gluten-free pastries, and homemade pop tarts. We tried an apple butter pop tart, because why the heck not? It was basically homemade pastry crust filled with a warm-spiced apple butter and topped with a sweet glaze.
If you visit on Thursdays from 9am - 3pm, Krazy Krepes is on location and serves up a varied menu of savory and sweet crepes, made to order and served hot and fresh.
On our first visit we both ordered a plain iced coffee (it was a warm day) and it was top notch. Don't you hate when you order an iced coffee only to find it weak and...blah? Not a problem here. the flavor was complex but smooth and mellow and with just a splash of milk it was perfect. Mine disappeared quickly. On our second trip, I tried an iced honey cinnamon latte which was a featured drink being advertised on their sidewalk sandwich board. W-i-n-n-e-r. I made myself sip it slowly because I didn't want it to end. Matt ordered a nitro cold brew. If you haven't had that before, it's basically beer in coffee form. Not kidding. It's got a thick foamy head and a thicker "mouthfeel" (ugh, I hate pretentious foodie terms, but I don't know a better word at the moment).
Known as "Jonesborough's Living Room", The Corner Cup is a comfortable place to get your caffeine fix and mingle with the locals.
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Some meals featured in this post were provided by the establishment to help us create this guide. We do not accept compensation or free product in return for a 100% positive review. Remember our motto: if it sucks, we'll tell you!