Salt N’ Pepper, a soul food restaurant in Johnson City, celebrated its first anniversary Jan. 5.
The restaurant is a partnership between Bridgette Gordon and Tiffany Greenlee. When they opened their soul food restaurant in early 2012, it occurred to me that a soul food establishment of this sort was long overdue for Johnson City. I am fond of visiting soul food establishments in Atlanta that have been recommended to me by friends, but a four-hour trip isn’t all that convenient for satisfying a spur-of-the-moment craving.
I’ve returned on several occasions since my first visit to the restaurant, and I’ve enjoyed trying different items on the menu, including the Blue Cheese Burger and the Fish Po’ Boy. My most recent visit took place with a friend on an unseasonably warm Sunday afternoon.
For those who may not have visited a soul food restaurant, many of the items featured on the menu are not really all that different from some of the homemade dishes made right here in the Southern Appalachians. Fried Chicken, Macaroni and Cheese, Fried Green Tomatoes and Chicken Salad all share space on the menu.
Gordon and Greenlee have also injected some Low Country/Cajun-Creole influences into their menu, offering such fare as Shrimp Po’ Boys and Shrimp and Grits.
Classic soul food/southern staples are also present, including Chicken N’ Waffles, Collard Greens, Fried Chicken Livers, Grits and Soup Beans.
Salt N’ Pepper also offers a selection of burgers, including a Bacon Cheeseburger, Smoke House Burger, Avocado Burger and a Shut Ya Mouth Burger, which is enhanced by jalapenos, pepper jack cheese and bacon. There’s also a simple Plain Hamburger served with lettuce, tomato and mayonnaise.
The restaurant’s interior design features a tile floor, walls painted cadet blue and light gray. The overall theme of the interior design is a tribute to music, and cutout lettering displayed on the walls spell out a variety of genres. The walls are also decorated with framed mirrors and photographs of musical entertainers ranging from Patsy Cline and Elvis to Prince and Madonna. The frames, shelves and other knickknacks are painted with bright colors, such as yellow, turquoise, purple, red, orange, green and coral. Other touches, including wall-mounted musical instruments and an antique radio, add to the pop-culture vibe of the place. During our visit, a mix of soul and pop music played at a comfortable volume in the background. Seating is available at tables and booths draped with red vinyl coverings. Overall, these touches create a casual, welcoming atmosphere.
My friend and I began our meal by selecting a shareable appetizer. The options include Fried Green Tomatoes, Chicken Livers, Bacon Cheese Fries, Fried Pickles and Chicken Wings in a variety of flavors, including Naked, Mild, Shut Ya Mouth, Lemon Pepper and Barbecue.
We chose to order the Chicken Livers, which were served with a ranch dipping sauce. When the livers arrived without the dipping sauce, we pointed the mistake out to our server and also asked if we could also have a container of the house specialty SNP Sauce.
This sauce, which reminds me of the “fry sauce” I first encountered during a trip to Utah several years ago, combines such condiments as mayonnaise and ketchup with pickle relish. The version at Salt N’ Pepper is quite tangy and, once it arrived at our table, went well with the livers.
Service is the main flaw in an otherwise admirable restaurant. It’s not that the servers aren’t friendly or helpful. Indeed, our server was very knowledgeable and helpful in offering menu suggestions; but during heavy business, they seem quite harried and overtaxed with waiting on too many customers.
After three tries, our server did return with the requested dipping sauces. Since it was obvious she had a lot of responsibilities, we certainly didn’t hold some delays against her. We enjoyed the Chicken Livers, which were fried crispy on the outside and still moist and flavorful inside.
The restaurant also offers daily specials, which can range from Smothered Pork Chops and Meatloaf to Chicken N’ Dumplings and Cajun Boneless Chicken Thighs.
The side dishes can also rotate, but on any given day may include Green Beans, Soup Beans, Navy Beans, Black-eyed Peas, Fried Taters N’ Onions, Sweet Potatoes, Cabbage, Cucumber N’ Tomato Salad, Cole Slaw and Mac N’ Cheese.
The menu also offers several salads, including Fried Green Tomato Salad, Chicken House Salad, SNP Cobb Salad and Spinach Salad.
In addition to the aforementioned burgers, the menu also offers a few sandwiches as well as entrees such as Fish N’ Grits, Shrimp N’ Grits, Fried Chicken Livers, Two-piece Chicken Dinner and Chicken N’ Waffles. The chicken, which is on the bone, includes such pieces as wings, breasts, legs and thighs. Lunch specials during our visit included Pork Roast and Meatloaf.
My friend ordered the Pork Roast accompanied by Carrot Souffle and Squash and Zucchini Casserole. I chose the Fish N’ Grits, which features a choice of fried or grilled tilapia. I chose to have my fish grilled.
We both ordered a cup of the Soup of the Day — Tomato Shrimp Bisque. The soup arrived ahead of the main dishes and was accompanied by a fried, slightly sweet Cornbread Cake. The creamy, tangy soup featured chunks of tomatoes in a smooth shrimp and tomato base.
We both enjoyed our main dishes. My ample filets of grilled tilapia were nicely seasoned and prepared perfectly. The buttery grits were served in a bowl on the side, as were my other two sides.
I loved the Black-eyed Peas, which were seasoned with ham and spices. My dining companion and I differed on the Squash and Zucchini Casserole. He liked it, but I found it a little too bland for my taste.
He also enjoyed his Carrot Souffle, which was fluffy and quite sweet. His flavorful Roast Pork, also seasoned well, was served in a bowl. I appreciated a sample of this daily special.
After finishing these dishes, my friend and I decided to share a dessert. The options included Mountain Dew Cake, Banana Pudding, Banana Pudding Cake, Texas Sheetcake, Honeybun Cake and an Apple Dumpling.
We chose the last of these selections, which was served with vanilla ice cream. The “secret” ingredient, our server confided, is that the pastry dumpling is enhanced with a dousing of Mountain Dew before being prepared. It was indeed a rich, sweet conclusion for the meal.
This restaurant’s true “soulful” touch comes from the attention to detail for many of the scratch-made dishes. Even the few items that I felt didn’t quite hit the mark would have outshone the food at many other home-style cooking restaurants.
Salt N’ Pepper is a welcome addition to the local dining scene, especially for fans of Southern classics prepared to order. I’m pleased to see this establishment celebrate its first anniversary and wish the team behind Salt N’ Pepper many more. If you haven’t yet paid a visit, be sure to rectify that in the near future and let them know they were recommended.
AT A GLANCE: Salt N’ Pepper, 3002 E. Oakland Ave., Johnson City. 283-SOUL (7685). Wednesday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-8 p.m.; Friday-Saturday, 11 a.m.-10 p.m.; and Sunday, noon-5 p.m. Menu items $11.99 and under. Credit cards accepted. Carryout available.