30 October 2013

Breakfast in Greeneville, TN - Tipton's Café


On the Road Again

I gave up in Bulls Gap. Just two days into our latest road trip the weather began to turn and my mood with it. As we entered the east Tennessee mountains, my interest in adventure and chance began to wane. What I longed for was someplace to just be, someplace that offered comfort and welcome.

Down the road, in Greeneville, TN, we found that place. We checked into the General Morgan Inn, a lovely historic hotel, and asked for dining suggestions. That evening we enjoyed an elegant dinner at Brumley’s restaurant. Even better suited to my mood was the suggestion to try the breakfast at Tipton’s Café the next morning.

Tipton’s Café is a short walk down Depot Street from the General Morgan Inn. Established in 1966 this café remains a fixture in Greeneville, TN, largely unchanged in style or demeanor since it began operation. It was the perfect place to begin another day on the road. The old-fashioned menu was simple, the service was fast and friendly, and the authentic local atmosphere was a bonus.


Down Depot Street

Tipton’s keeps somewhat unusual hours. The night clerk at the General Morgan Inn told us that they open at 11pm and close early, after the morning crowd has died down. He told us he often goes there when he gets off work and assured us that they serve a good breakfast at a good price.

Later that evening we walked down Depot Street to take a look. Just a block past the General Morgan Inn’s perky awnings, Greeneville resembled other small towns across the heartland; an antique shop or two updating old storefronts wedged between abandoned building in varying states of disrepair. And then, there it was, Tipton’s Café, neither perky nor run-down, a narrow slice of a simple brick storefront operating as if time had never passed it by.


A Lively Business

The next morning, I walked by Tipton’s while taking photos around town. A neon sign in the window announced it was open for business. A peek in the window confirmed that conversation was lively and all but one or two of the stools at the counter were full along with both of the small tables that sat against the wall.

We stopped in closer to lunch time, on our way out of town. By then only a few of the dozen or so stools at the diner style lunch counter were full. We sat down and noticed how closely we were drawn to the bar leaving a narrow aisle between our backs and the tables by the wall. In front of us we were practically close enough to the griddle and the drinks to serve ourselves. The tight environment invited a comfortable camaraderie.


A Friendly Atmosphere

The folks at Tipton’s Café in Greeneville, TN were friendly and big hearted, especially when it comes to children and kittens. There were pictures of both on the shelves behind the counter. The staff greeted regular customers by name as they came through the door and drew us strangers into the conversation, cheerfully answering questions, and sharing stories about the photos, about teenagers and a tiny kitten they took under their wing, about the relentless march of time and, well, life in general.


The Value of Over-Medium

While there was nothing high-minded about the simple menu or the meal we were served, I can say that at Tipton's Café they know how to fry an egg. I ordered mine over medium, meaning I wanted my eggs fried so that the white was thoroughly cooked but the yellow remained a bit runny. They came over medium, a small thing, perhaps, but something that happens only rarely when I eat at breakfast-trade chain restaurants, and for which I am grateful.


They also know about value. Two eggs with two strips of bacon, two biscuits and gravy were $5. A hearty BLT on toast, served with thick slices of juicy and flavorful tomatoes, was a mere $3.50.


A Little Fun From the Griddle

At Tipton's Café they also know how to share a little fun. While eating our meal, donuts made their way into our conversation and another diner asked if we had ever eaten Tipton’s Fried Donut. As it was our first time in the area we shrugged and said no. They replied that we had to try one.

In a moment, without a question, the waitress/cook was frying a glazed donut on the grill right in front of us. Before we knew what to say it was on a plate, slathered with syrup, and served between us. There was nothing for us to do but dig in and give it a try.


The simple generosity with which it was prepared demanded a smile. And, I have to say, that Fried Donut really was good! Heating the donut seemed to reconstitute the same sort of fresh donut appeal that draws crowds to Krispy Kreme outlets from miles around. Heating it on the griddle added even more interest as it gave the sugar glaze a slight crispiness that inspired me to remember the Dunkin’ Sticks I ate as a child at my grandparents house. My grandfather loved to dip his in a cup of hot coffee when he took a morning break from his farm chores and joined us at the kitchen table to share some conversation and a story or two.

Thinking of my late grandfather, I resisted dunking my Fried Donut into my coffee cup but enjoyed the nostalgia of the moment. While I wouldn’t want to eat one every day I felt blessed by the opportunity to try something different, by the enthusiasm with which it was shared and by the memories that it evoked.


It wasn’t long before we had finished our meal, paid the bill and were on our way. Tipton’s Café serves fast food the old fashioned way. We left near their closing time feeling satisfied with a decent meal at a decent price and with a warm feeling about small town hospitality.

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