OUT to LUNCH by Bethel Poston: Don’t forget the bread pudding at all-new Junior’s

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Four years ago, in March 2008, I wrote my first “Out to Lunch” article on Junior’s Restaurant in Rockwood.

“Junior’s in Rockwood has been sold, although the name is the same,” wrote Ray Collett, my friend and former Rockwood City Council member, in an email he sent me last November.

“The new owners are Sam and Anne Seat. They have changed the menu and hours, which offers a delicious pork tenderloin, and pulled pork, cooked behind the restaurant on a large barbecue smoker grill.”

Ray added, “Junior’s is now open on Saturday; plus on Sunday, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., offering a large selection of items on a ‘serve yourself’ smorgasbord.

“Every Wednesday, around 11:45 a.m., several Rockwood High School graduates meet in the back dining room to organize annual reunions and enjoy lunch,” he continued. “We would be glad to have you join us.”

I decided to accept his invitation after receiving a January email from our friend, Diana Kirk, encouraging us with: “My husband and I ate at Junior’s last Wednesday evening. He tried the chicken-fried-chicken and loved it.”

“Sam Seat, one of the new owners, says he is using all fresh ingredients, when possible. He previously spent over 10 years with Calhoun’s and Copper Cellar in Knoxville, starting as a dishwasher,” Diana said.

Sam told me during our visit that he also spent 13 years with Sysco, selling food to restaurants in this area.

Junior McCullough was one of his customers. On June 12, 2011, Sam and his wife bought Junior’s.

“Chicken-fried-chicken is a fresh, non-frozen chicken breast, pounded to tenderize, breaded, fried to a golden brown and served topped with gravy that’s flavored with roasted chicken drippings,” Sam said.

“Thirty percent of our customers order this chicken,” he added.

Anne also operates a catering service in addition to doing the many things a wife and owner does for the restaurant.

My wife, Carol, told me she wanted to invite her friend, Marjorie Hicks, for lunch, since we would be out of town when her Rockwood Ladies Lunch Bunch would be celebrating Marjorie’s 91st birthday.

Marjorie and Carol settled into a booth in the front dining area. From the Specials of the Day written on a board at the entry, both ordered chicken and dumplings. Carol added turnip greens to her order.

In a nearby booth, United Healthcare employees, Brenda Overshiner and Kim McCready were enjoying their lunches. Brenda chose chicken and dumplings, and Kim had a hot roast beef sandwich with mashed potatoes, brown gravy and slaw.

I headed for the back room to join the Rockwood High School reunion group, passing a large group from a local nursing home eating in the middle dining area.

Wayne Pugh, class of 1955 and retired from the L&N Railroad, had hand-breaded chicken strips.

“Their made-on-site vegetable beef soup is very good,” he told me.

Wayne went to Oak Ridge grade schools in the mid-1940’s. I started first grade in Oak Ridge, graduating from there in 1955. We think our paths probably crossed, but we’ve both changed some since then.

Jim and Irene Ables,  parents of Judy Abels Giles (class of 1955), owned the restaurant now known as Junior’s for 30 years. It was then named B&J Cafe. You’ll enjoy reading about the history of this restaurant location in the menu.

Judy, a retired Mississippi Kmart personnel manager, had the popular chicken-fried chicken with green beans and oven-baked potatoes during our visit.

Freda Hall McCuiston, class of 1956 and retired from Richards Industries of Roane County, selected a vegetable plate of mashed potatoes, green peas, pickled beets and made-on-site rolls.

“The rolls are made from Mother’s homemade recipe, fresh every morning,” Sam said, “along with a bunch of brownies.”

Both are on display at the checkout counter for customers to purchase in quantity as they leave.

Ray, my “Out to Lunch” scout, was a member of the class of 1957. He retired from Home Beneficial Insurance Co. in Virginia and moved back to Rockwood.

Folks have enjoyed reading his “Rockwood Memories” column in The Rockwood Times and his first two books, “Rockwood Memories,” volumes 1 and 2.

Both he and Charlie Carter, class of 1955, chose the barbecue pulled-pork sandwich with cole slaw during our visit.

Classmates say Charlie is a harmonica player and has recorded a CD.

Sam told me the Memphis Mild, North Carolina Vinegar and Sweet n’ Spicy (flavored with Dr Pepper) barbecue sauces are made-on site.

I moved around to sit between Micki Hickey Shumate, class of 1955, and Pat Buckhannon Clifton, class of 1969.

Micki had a vegetable plate, and Pat a club sandwich.

Micki taught and coached in the Chattanooga area, and the gym at Tyner School is named for her. Pat works with her husband, David, at David Clifton Chevrolet in Rockwood.

I got to talking with Billy, class of 1956, and Gail Pugh Wilkey, class of 1961, and forgot to find out what they ate.
Billy retired from Y-12 Plant in Oak Ridge and now, in addition to being a wildlife artist, operates Wilkey’s Woodcraft Shop, building custom made furniture.

Can you guess what two old men with furniture interest talked about?

I did see that George McCollum was enjoying his hamburger; Bob Meadows was doing a good job on the chicken-fried chicken; and Mary Alexander Kau said her take-out box contained a tomato and cottage cheese salad.

Many of the reunion group left before I could visit with them, and some moved to another area for a scholarship committee meeting.

It was a good time for me to order some fried popcorn shrimp with a spicy dipping sauce, plus fries. Before I could devour too many shrimp, Sam brought me a serving of fried flounder and chicken-fried chicken to sample.

Thank goodness Carol wandered back to help me with all the delicious food. She didn’t know I was trying to save room for some bread pudding, made with left-over rolls, raisins and flavored with “Southern whiskey sauce.”

It was so good I could have filled up with the bread pudding alone.

Homemade soups, such as potato and cheese, seafood gumbo, and chicken and rice are very popular with customers.

Junior’s extensive menu also offers a variety of sandwiches, salads and fruit plates. There is also a spaghetti platter, ground beef steak, catfish, fried chicken livers, smoked pork loin and country ham steak.

Other desserts served are strawberry shortcake; as well as fudge, chocolate chip pecan, chocolate, coconut, apple, cherry Boston crème, pecan and lemon pies.

I’m told Junior’s is very busy for breakfast with its omelets, buttermilk pancakes and French toast, in addition to eggs with ham, fried bologna, sausage or bacon; plus toast or biscuits and gravy.

Junior’s is open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. weekdays, from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday, and from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday.

As I write this “Out To Lunch” article it dawned on me that I should have brought some bread pudding home with me.
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Bethel Poston is a Roane County businessman and entrepreneur who writes about places of interest in our area. E-mail suggestions and comments to postonplace@bellsouth.net.