Gravity Burgers at Mid City Grill, Arvil Burgers at Tootie’s highlight third round of ‘Burger Quest’
This week’s quest for the best area burgers took me to Bristol’s oldest restaurant, as well as a popular late-night eatery in downtown Johnson City.
My first visit took me to Tootie’s, which touts itself as the oldest restaurant in Bristol. According to a history printed on the back of the restaurant’s menu, Claude Vance opened Tootie’s in the fall of 1945 a few months after he returned home after service during World War II. Claude and his wife, Ann, opened Vance’s Confectionary. They sold sundry items, including hardware and Claude’s own brand of paint. They even had a lunch counter at the front of the store, where they sold burgers, hotdogs and other diner fare. In those days, the menu notes that Vance’s was the only eating establishment between State Street in Bristol and Mountain City.
The original site of Tootie’s was in what was known as the “Willie Boom” section of town. Today, the restaurant is located across from Food City. Years ago, however, a lake covered the area where the grocery store now stands. People brought in logs and floated them to a lumber yard owned by a Mr. Willie. The “boom” is a reference to the floating timbers.
In July 1982, Claude retired and his son and daughter-in-law, Arvil and Jane Vance, bought the business and renamed it Tootie’s Restaurant in honor of Arvil’s nickname.
The restaurant’s interior doesn’t look to have changed much through the years. The walls are painted in bright hues of yellow and white, trimmed with orange. Seating is available at booths and tables, which are also orange and yellow. There are also a couple of tables on the restaurant’s front porch.
Customers order at the front counter, and drinks are available from a self-serve dispenser or as bottles and cans from a refrigerator. There’s also a condiment station offering ketchup and other items. Some arcade games in one corner and a guitar-strumming stuffed toy dog add a few other items of interest to the decor.
Tootie’s still retains its diner atmosphere, serving breakfast all day long, as well as a variety of burgers, hot and cold sub sandwiches and other items including Soup Beans with Cornbread, a barbecue platter and a hamburger steak dinner.
The restaurant is quite justly famous for its burgers, and the star among the offerings is the Arvil Burger. Other burgers include the Famous Five-Ounce Burger, a Double Five-Ounce Burger and a Bacon Burger. Deluxe burgers are also listed on the menu, including the Willie Boom Burger, Mushroom Burger, Jalapeno Burger, a Blue Collar Burger and a third-pound Angus Burger.
I tried the well-known Arvil Burger on my first visit. On a subsequent visit, I ordered the Willie Boom Burger. On that occasion, a friend di
ning with me got his first introduction to the Arvil Burger.
What is the Arvil Burger? Well, it’s a monster of a burger that starts out as a 10-ounce beef patty. One of the secrets to the popularity of this burger is that onions are fried within the patty to lock in the flavor. It’s served on a large bun with a double serving of lettuce, tomato, onion, mayonnaise and, on request, American cheese.
It’s not fancy, but it’s juicy and made of simple but fresh ingredients. Thankfully, the bun doesn’t fall apart and holds up throughout the meal.
The Willie Boom Burger is basically Tootie’s version of a chili burger. It starts as a six-ounce hand-formed patty paired with grilled onions, chili and cheese. The chili on the burger is savory, but I found myself wishing there had been more chili with this burger.
There’s a variety of side dishes to accompany your burgers, inc
luding French Fries, Onion Rings, Tater Tots, Chili Cheese Fries, Corn Nuggets, Cheddar Rounds and even Tamales.
My friend and I both enjoyed our burgers, and I also owe some other friends a big “thank you” for introducing me to Tootie’s.
Do make sure to leave some room for a cool treat at the end of the meal. Tootie’s offers ice cream in cones, waffle cones or cups, as well as ice cream sundaes, root beer floats and milkshakes.
Ice cream flavors include traditional ones such as vanilla, chocolate and strawberry, as well as such less-traditional ones as Moon Pie, Cotton Candy and Blueberry Cheesecake.
I ended the visit with a deliciously smooth and creamy Blueberry Cheesecake Shake, which I enjoyed to the last sip on the way home from Bristol.
A co-worker didn’t steer me wrong when he insisted that I include a visit to Mid City Grill in my “Burger Quest” destinations this month.
The long-time Johnson City eatery is located on Commerce Street near the Greyhound Bus Station and is a favorite after-hours spot for many people. We arrived around 7 p.m., hours ahead of the late-night crowd. Some other “early birds” were also dining in the restaurant.
There’s not a lot in the way of atmosphere. The green and white walls give way in some places to exposed brick. Some paper lanterns add some color. There are also some head-scratching puzzles, such as how did all the toothpicks get lodged in the ceiling tiles?
While the burgers at Mid City are definitely stellar, they share the spotlight with a variety of creative sandwiches, appetizers and even desserts.
Burgers, first — and the choices are quite varied. Burgers available include The Big Daddie, BBQ Bacon Burger, The Classic Cheeseburger, Gravity Burger, The Heater, The Beckinator and The Full Nelson, which is a pound-and-a-half burger served on an 8-inch focaccia bun. Mid City also frequently offers a “Burger of the Day,” which was an Aztec Burger during our visit.
Our six-member dining party indulged a variety of tastes in choosing our burgers. Among those who had visited Mid City previously, there wasn’t any hesitation as they placed orders for Gravity Burgers. These burger patties are topped with hummus, roast beef, horseradish, lettuce, tomato, red onion and Mid-City’s special Get Saucy Sauce.
I ordered the Aztec Burger, which featured a 6-ounce patty topped with green chili sauce, pepper jack cheese, mayonnaise, lettuce, tomato and red onion.
Other members of the group ordered the 6-ounce Classic Cheeseburger and the Beckinator. The Beckinator should come with a cholesterol warning (just kidding) for its bountiful amount of bacon. The patty is also topped with Swiss cheese, tomato, lettuce, Guinness onions and even bacon mayonnaise.
Even before the real meal started, the dining party shared an order of hummus accompanied by cucumber slices and wedges of pita bread. We chose the regular hummus, but I did notice a Jalapeno/Cilantro Hummus advertised on the board with other daily specials.
Other appetizers and side dishes available include Portabella Fingers, Homemade Chips, Onion Rings, Fried Pickles, Fried Banana Peppers, Buffalo Bleu Fries and Sweet Potato Fries.
The verdict on the burgers? All of them received rave reviews, and more than a few were shared with other members of the dining party. That’s how I acquired a taste of the incredible Gravity Burger. This burger features a lot of “extras,” but they all come together for one sensational burger. I don’t know if it’s the roast beef, the hummus or the special Get Saucy Sauce, but this burger was unanimously chosen as the best of the evening’s burgers.
Passing up dessert at Mid City Grill would be a serious mistake. Fortunately, we didn’t even entertain the notion of leaving without trying a sweet to conclude the meal. Sweets include a variety of cheesecakes — Chocolate Caramel Whiskey Sauce Cheesecake, White Chocolate Macadamia with Dark Chocolate Ganache, Snickerdoodle, Butter Pecan, Birthday Cake, Hazelnut Cream Swirl, Boston Cream and Bananas Foster — as well as Chocolate-covered Bacon on a Stick and a variety of Artisan Chocolates, which are displayed beneath a glass case at the front of the restaurant.
One of my friends insisted we try the bacon. We chose a strip of Chocolate-Jalapeno Bacon, which combined the savory goodness of bacon with the slow-rising heat of jalapeno blended with a rich chocolate.
I also shared a slice of the Chocolate Caramel Whiskey Sauce Cheesecake with several members of my dining party. We ate this decadent (but not too rich) treat at a slow, indulgent pace to enjoy every bite to the fullest.
We also tried a few of the Artisan Chocolates. Varieties included Patron XO, Champagne Grand Marnier, Frangelico Hazelnut, Raspberry, Bacon and Woodford Reserve Bourbon Honey and Sriracha. These delectable little sweet treats are only $1.50 each.
I tried — and loved — one of the Sriracha Chocolates, which featured rich chocolate that melts in your mouth while unleashing a lingering fierceness from the sriracha chili sauce.
The Mid City Grill and Tootie’s Restaurant are two unique eating establishments, each offering their own unique takes on America’s classic burger. If you visit, let them know they come highly recommended.
AT A GLANCE: Tootie’s Restaurant, 1310 Virginia Ave., Bristol. 764-6215. Monday-Friday, 8 a.m.-7:30 p.m.; Saturday, 8:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Menu items $6.95 and under. Credit cards accepted. Carryout available.
AT A GLANCE: Mid City Grill, 106 S. Commerce St., Johnson City. 794-2042. Tuesday and Wednesday, 5 p.m.-4 a.m.; Thursday, Friday and Saturday, 5 p.m. to 5 a.m. Most menu items $9.99 and under. Credit cards accepted. Carryout available. Limited delivery available after 11 p.m. each night. The restaurant does not serve alcohol, but brown-bagging is permitted.