By Anne Braly
The pure enjoyment seen on every face as palate meets panini is evidence of why the Creek Cafe in Jefferson City has received accolades throughout East Tennessee.
Owner Spencer Jones’ eyes tear up with grateful emotion when talking about success after barely two years in business.
“We don’t deserve it,” he says.
Diners beg to disagree. TripAdvisor.com ranked it the No. 1 restaurant in Jefferson City. A contest sponsored by Knoxville’s WBIR TV awarded the Creek Cafe for having the best ice cream in East Tennessee.
“We never had food in mind when we started this,” Jones says. He and his wife, Libby, originally intended to create a place where the community could gather and visit over a cup of coffee. “But then, we started thinking, ‘What do people in the South do when they come together? They eat! We’re famous for that.’ ”
And eat they do. The couple opened the cafe in the fall of 2011, and it’s now the town’s pipeline to paninis, wraps, deli sandwiches, soups, white chicken chili, salads and made-from-scratch desserts, such as the popular Nutella dessert panini.
The recipes were perfected in the Joneses’ home kitchen, where Libby designed a menu using as many local food products as possible, including the favorite Rocky Mountain Fudge ice cream, one of a dozen different flavors made at Sevierville’s Apple Valley Creamery.
The turkey basil panini and the white chicken chili are house favorites, along with tomato basil soup. “People get upset if they come on a day when we’re not serving the tomato basil,” Jones says.
The building that now houses the Creek Cafe was home to several businesses over the course of 70 years before the Joneses bought it in 2010. The couple spent months peeling back layers of outdated interior decor to reveal handsome wood floors and beautiful tin ceiling tiles in near-pristine condition.
A recent remodeling of the basement area included construction of a new prep kitchen that enabled an expansion of the menu, as well as the ability to make more of the cafe’s foods in-house, including the chicken for the new California Chicken Salad and the “Chicken Salad” Salad, all of their soups, and made-from-scratch salad dressings.
Spencer hopes that repurposing the building will set an example that others will follow to help bring downtown Jefferson City back to life.
If you go…
The Creek Cafe
Address: 110 E Old Andrew Johnson Hwy, Jefferson City, TN 37760
Phone: (865) 308-9084
Hours of Operation: Open Monday-Saturday, 10:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Closed Sunday.