Editor’s note: After seven years, our founding Mystery Diner columnist has decided to eat only for pleasure. This week, we introduce our latest Mystery Diner, who brings a new perspective to the region’s dining scene.
At a glance: The Ole Barn Restaurant and Farm, 440 Okolona Road. 631-0402. Reservations: 631-0403. www.olebarnrestaurant.com. Cash, checks and major credit cards accepted.
I don’t know if it’s the water, the air, or the folks themselves, our little corner of the Appalachians seems to turn out a goodly number of people who are successful no matter what they turn their hand to.
One such stalwart is Wayne Ayers of Washington County.
Already a success and nationally known for his Christmas tree farm, (a tree of his once graced the White House) Ayers has opened a family-style all-you-can-eat restaurant in a mid-1800s cantilever barn.
Using recovered building materials from the original structure, some dating back to the 1700s, the Ole Barn Restaurant occupies a prominent position on Ayers’ farm at 440 Okolona Road in Johnson City.
As his son John said, “When we moved the barn over here, I never thought we’d be putting a restaurant in it.”
Well, they have, and Johnson City is all the better for it.
While there is a cozy dining room just off the main foyer on the first floor, it is the second floor that houses the massively cantilevered main dining area, attractively decorated with antique farm tools and implements. Currently, the restaurant is open on Fridays from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. and weekends from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m.
This is a family-style restaurant; your meal includes dinner, drink and dessert. Your table has a choice of two meats from the three daily selections of fried chicken, country ham, chicken and dumplings, and the daily special — ours was Barnyard (beef) Stew. These arrive at your table with their accompanying side dishes, almost before you can put your napkin in your lap.
The side dishes are home-style vegetables: creamed corn, real mashed potatoes with brown gravy, coleslaw, green beans, pinto beans, macaroni and cheese, and corn bread salad, with a special of the day, ours being steamed cabbage. Biscuits and corn bread muffins with homemade apple butter are also provided. Since this is “all-you-can-eat,” if you run short, be sure to let your friendly wait staff know, and you’ll soon have more of what you’re hungry for.
My table opted for the fried chicken and the country ham for our two meats, and were well-pleased with our choices. The fried chicken arrived piled on a platter shared with a generous quantity of country ham. The chicken was succulent and freshly prepared. I found the chicken’s seasoning a touch salty for my taste, but that’s just me. The center-cut country ham gets high marks for being both lean, well-prepared and moist. Adding a hot, apple-buttered biscuit to the ham was a treat for our taste buds.
Of the sides, the creamed corn was more corn than cream and quite good, especially with the chicken. The real mashed potatoes still had some lumps of potato in them, and were properly seasoned, although adding the supplied brown gravy was a mistake — I could taste the can it came in. The coleslaw and green beans were unremarkable, while the pinto beans, macaroni and cheese and the steamed cabbage got high marks. Best of the side dishes was the corn bread salad. Though composed of a touch more corn bread than salad, it was a tasty accompaniment to the two meat dishes.
Once you’ve finished with the main course, it’s time to start thinking about dessert. From the five dessert selections offered, my table chose apple cobbler, peach cobbler, chocolate cake, and a brownie with homemade peanut butter icing. The fifth offering, pineapple pudding, was left for another visit.
The chocolate cake was yummy, as was the brownie, though the icing could have used an extra dose of peanut butter. The peach cobbler arrived warm, and topped with a big scoop of vanilla ice cream; the peaches used were a bit too ripe, making the whole concoction a trifle soggy on the spoon. Easily the winner was the apple cobbler, which arrived warm at the table garnished with a big scoop of vanilla ice cream and trailing a cloud of cinnamon.
At $12.99 inclusive, a person can dine comfortably here for just over 16 dollars, tip included. The Ole Barn accepts cash, checks and major credit cards. If you are planning to bring a large group, why not make a courtesy phone call to their reservations phone number and let them know you’re coming?
The Ole Barn is a place to get to know your family again, over a good meal, and Wayne Ayers has another success in the making.
On your visit, it’s quite possible you’ll run into him bringing in a big pan of their excellent biscuits.
You can’t miss him; he’s the one wearing a smile on his face big enough to match the one on your own.
|Space Capone at Capone's|
|Space Capone made a landing and performed at Capone's in Johnson City, TN.|