published Friday, May 25th, 2012

Think Jenkins for casual dining in Cleveland

Jenkins Restaurant and Deli has been a fixture in Cleveland, Tenn., for 36 years. Tucked into a small shopping center at the intersection of Mouse Creek Road and Keith Street, it is an unassuming place without the flashy trappings of the chain restaurants nearby. Locals know it for a couple of house specialties on a broader menu of American staples.

The Menu

Jenkins serves an assortment of soups, salads, sandwiches and burgers, in addition to several entrees and pasta dishes.

The chicken salad appears in several variations: as an appetizer ($4.99 for a scoop), whole or half sandwich ($7.29 and $5.59), plated with salad greens ($8.59) or in bulk ($4.59/half pint, $7.99/pint, $14.99/quart).

The chicken salad has long been billed as “famous,” but it got an extra shot of notoriety in a 2009 shout-out from National Geographic after a travel writer stopped in for a meal after a day of whitewater rafting on the Ocoee.

The spinach dip and pasta salad are other house favorites. They’re also sold in bulk, along with coleslaw, soup and tea.

The 17 sandwich selections range from $4.99 for grilled cheese (two cheeses on Texas toast) to $8.99 for the chicken club (a boneless breast served fried, blackened or barbecued and topped with bacon, Monterey Jack cheese and other fixings). Most sandwiches are in the $6.99 to $7.99 range, and there’s an all-beef hot dog for $5.49.

Fish and steak selections, whether served as sandwiches or entrees, are market price.

Six soup selections range from French onion to Charlie’s Mama’s Chili. Three of the four salad selections are priced at $8.59; the house salad is four bucks cheaper.

The 11 appetizers range from fried pickle chips ($4.99) to jalapeno poppers ($8.99).

Chicken fingers and popcorn shrimp are among the deep-fried selections, served with fries and coleslaw. Among the burger listings, a vegetarian option and ground buffalo meat add variety. Buffalo steak is also among the entrees. It’s priced at $11.99, the norm for most entrees.

Desserts include cheesecake and French silk pie.

The Meal

IF YOU GO

Where: Jenkins Restaurant and Deli, 88 Mouse Creek Road N.W., Cleveland, Tenn.

Phone: 423-478-1648.

Website: www.jenkins-deli.com.

Hours: 10:30 a.m.-10 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 10:30 a.m.-10:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday.

Price range: $9.99 to $11.99 for entrees and pasta dishes.*

Alcohol: Draft and bottled beers.

Our party of three decided on Chicken Florentine ($11.99), Flippin’ Chicken ($11.99) and a Super Club sandwich ($7.99), as well as fried mushrooms as an appetizer, served with horseradish and cocktail sauce for dipping.

Entrees are served with a choice of potato and veggie. Sandwiches come with steak fries or kettle chips.

The Chicken Florentine is a boneless breast of chicken, smothered in spinach dip and topped with shredded cheese, sour cream and diced tomatoes.

The combination of spinach dip and cheese made a nice, gooey topping for the tender chicken breast. The baked potato was good and large, a nice touch now that undersize spuds are becoming the cost-cutting norm at some restaurants. The broccoli was a single thick stalk with several florets. I don’t necessarily need butter or cheese to enjoy broccoli, but with no seasoning at all, this seemed a little bland, even boring, compared to the richness of the chicken dish.

The Flippin’ Chicken ($11.99) is a barbecued boneless breast with bacon, melted Jack and Cheddar cheeses, diced tomatoes and chives. The large dollop of sour cream on top was unexpected (it’s not listed as topping on the menu) and unwanted. It needed a bit more barbecue sauce for extra flavor, which our server was quick to provide.

The Super Club ($7.99) is a stack of ham, turkey, Swiss and American cheeses, bacon, lettuce, tomato and mayonnaise on wheat bread. The fries were thick and tasty.

The fried mushrooms were quite good and all fairly uniform in size, making them easier to share. They were tasty enough that the dipping sauces were not a priority.

We also got to-go orders of the chicken salad and pasta salad. Both were more peppery than most I’ve had, but both were very good.

The Service

We were seated quickly by the hostess and approached almost immediately by our server, Grover. He was quick with refills, and took our indecision in stride when we changed our mind about an appetizer just as we ordered our entrees.

Our food was brought to the table by another worker, so it seemed to come straight from the kitchen. However, nothing arrived piping hot — not even the fried mushrooms, which are typically too hot to eat when served right out of the deep fryer. Maybe there was some lag time from kitchen to table, but we never felt like our service was slow.

The Space

Jenkins has almost a sports-bar vibe, but without the distractions of too many TVs and too much volume. Beer signs in neon colors decorate the walls, along with assorted other bric-a-brac and a few stray Christmas lights to add visual interest. What most caught our eye was the copper plating on the tabletops.

The Verdict

Jenkins is a comfortable, casual place with good food, a good vibe and friendly service. While change is to be expected over three and half decades — we fondly remember a pork chop no longer on the menu — Jenkins seems to need little more than fine-tuning as it enters Year 37. Like the chicken salad, the business formula is a recipe that needs no tinkering.

about Lisa Denton...

Lisa Denton is deputy features editor and content editor of Current. She previously was a lifestyle, entertainment and region reporter/pod leader for The Chattanooga Times, which she joined in 1983. Lisa is from Sale Creek and holds an associate’s degree in journalism from Chattanooga State Community College. Contact Lisa at 423-757-6281 or ldenton@timesfreepress.com.

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