In just a short amount of time, the strip mall located in front of the Unicoi Wal-Mart has gone from being home to a single restaurant to housing three different eateries. Based on the usually full parking lot at the location, all three seem to be drawing plenty of customers.
The well-established Los Jalapenos Mexican Restaurant has been operating at the location for a couple of years now. Earlier this summer, Primo’s Italian Restaurant expanded and now has a store at this location as well as in Elizabethton.
The most recent restaurant to open there is Bubba’s Good Eats, and I made a point to visit the restaurant after receiving some good reports from friends who visited the restaurant almost as soon as it opened.
The restaurant represents the expansion of a successful restaurant partnership in Burnsville, N.C., into a location in Tennessee. According to the restaurant’s website, Bubba’s Good Eats is named for Mark “Bubba” Presnell, who with his business partners, Chris Autrey and Craig Howell, are the co-owners of both the North Carolina and Tennessee locations. The men are avid sports fans, which shows in the interior decor of Bubba’s Good Eats.
The walls are painted eggshell gray. Unicoi County High School Blue Devil memorabilia — football jerseys, cheerleader uniforms and pom-poms — are displayed as decorative touches on the walls. Several flat-screen televisions are also placed in various positions in the dining area. Booths and chairs are upholstered in blue vinyl and the tabletops are covered with blue gingham cloths. Laminate floors made to resemble bamboo give a light, airy touch to the decor. The entire restaurant is quite bright and airy and offers a casual, family-oriented atmosphere. There’s also a display case offering Bubba’s T-shirts, including a camouflage pattern, for sale.
I visited Bubba’s Good Eats on a Friday evening and found the restaurant almost packed. We did manage to get a table for a party of six since I was accompanied by five friends.
A server welcomed us and delivered menus. The servers were easy to recognize since they all wore the afore-mentioned Bubba’s T-shirts.
We started by looking over the “Pre-game Appetizers,” as they’re listed on the sports-oriented menu at Bubba’s. The options included Cheesy Cheese Sticks, Bubba’s Buffalo Wings, Onion Petals, Potato Skins, Potato Chips and two varieties of quesadillas, a barbecue and Philly steak version.
There’s also Bubba’s Homemade Chili and a Soup of the Day option. A friend and I decided to share an order of the Potato Skins. This appetizer featured five potato skins deep-fried and stuffed with a cheesy filling that also included crumbled bacon. Ranch dressing and sour cream also accompanied these morsels on the side. They were served in a basket lined with a napkin featuring the same blue gingham pattern as the tablecloths. This tasty treat’s not likely to help lower one’s cholesterol levels, but do as I did and share with a friend to minimize the damage.
After the Potato Skins whetted our appetites, we paid closer attention to the menu’s offerings of entrees, which include Grand Slam Burgers and Sandwiches as well as Bubba’s Babyback Ribs, Smothered Chicken, Mountain Trout, Fried Shrimp and Grilled Shrimp. Main course offerings also include Touch Down Steaks, including Ribeye, Filet Mignon, Center-cut Sirloin and Chopped Steak. I considered some of the burgers — Bubba’s BBQ Bacon Cheeseburger and Based Loaded Burger — as well as Bubba’s Grilled Chicken Sandwich and Bubba’s BBQ Sandwich.
I asked the server about her recommendation for the steaks and got a good report on the Ribeye, which comes in two sizes. I selected the 12-ounce Ribeye over the eight-ounce alternative. Other members of my dining party ordered the Full Rack of Babyback Ribs, Bubba’s C h e e s e b u r g e r , Bubba’s BBQ Sandwich and Chicken Tenders.
The steak, which I ordered me d i um- r a r e , came accompanied by two sides. Options listed under “Pinch Hitter Sides” include Steak Fries, Potato Chips, Sweet Potato Fries, Baked Potato, Baked Beans, Potato Salad, Green Beans, Vegetable Medley and Cole Slaw. I paired my steak with a Baked Potato, sour cream and butter on the side, as well as Green Beans.
Considering how busy the restaurant was during our visit, our food arrived without too long a wait. My steak was quite flavorful and prepared as requested. I liked the sides, especially the well-seasoned green beans. The only problem, and a bit of a mystery, was why my slices of Texas Toast had not been buttered on either side. I checked with my friends, and they all had buttered toast while I had two pieces of dry toasted bread. I chose not to make an issue of the mistake.
The members of my dining party all seemed content with their meals. The friend with the Babyback Ribs reported that they featured a flavorful sauce but that the meat on a few was a little dry.
The burgers were a complete hit and looked quite juicy. They featured hand-patted meat with lots of fresh trimmings piled onto the buns. As much as I liked my Ribeye Steak, I think I’ll sample the burgers on future visits.
Those members of my party ordering the Sweet Potato Fries were also delighted that these fries came as waffle fries, not wedge-shaped fries, and that they were accompanied with butter and cinnamon. I also noted that the Chicken Tenders looked quite impressive. This meal consisted of several huge, breaded chicken tenders served in a basket with two side items.
After finishing off these meals, we didn’t skip dessert. The options available consisted of Bubba’s Big Brownie, which is served with Vanilla Ice Cream and Hot Fudge, as well as Blackberry Cobbler. My dining party evenly divided on these desserts. I came down on the side of the brownie, which indeed delivered a sweet conclusion of yummy chocolate and refreshing ice cream. The cobbler looked like a traditional version of this homemade treat.
All in all, we enjoyed our introduction to Bubba’s Good Eats, and found the restaurant is quite aptly named. I think the restaurant should win plenty of fans in the coming weeks and months. Even better, located just off Interstate 26, the restaurant will probably also attract some visitors from both the Tri-Cities as well as travelers coming over the mountains from North Carolina.
AT A GLANCE: Bubba’s Good Eats, 100 Rocky Bottom Road, Suite 3, Unicoi. 735-4400. Monday-Saturday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Closed Sunday. Dinner entrees range from $5.99-$17.99. Credit cards accepted. Carryout available.