Center Street Grill & Smokehouse in downtown Kingsport has a barbecue and burger, but owner Jeff McArdle carefully chose the name of the restaurant in the hope that it wouldn’t become confined to the bathroom as “just a barbecue or just a burger joint.”
He is not. The restaurant, which occupies a building that was once home to Sharon’s Grill and Burgers, actually serves great grills and burgers (try the “breakfast burger” with bacon and fried eggs, or the “southern burger” with fried green tomatoes, bacon, and pimento cheese). But its menu is full of specialty sandwiches, sides, and desserts (try the peanut butter pie or banana pudding). “Sixth Street Meatloaf” is a fan favorite, especially among Eastman employees who remember it from the McArdle’s inside the factory.
The Times News asked McArdle to answer a few questions to allow readers to learn more about Center Street Grill & Smokehouse.
Q: How long has your restaurant been operating?
A: A little over three years ago. We opened in July 2018.
Q: What do you think of the specialties in your restaurant and why?
A: Smoked meats – boneless chicken, pulled pork and brisket – and specialty burgers and sandwiches. Cowboy beans are our most popular side. And of course our meatloaf.
Q: For chefs.. what is your culinary education and how did you learn to do what you do in the kitchen?
A: I have always been in the restaurant business. Since I was 16, that’s all I know. I started working in high school at Chck-fil-A in the mall. Then, after graduating from college in Northeast State, she attended culinary school at Johnson and Wales University. A requirement for joining Johnson & Wells was to have at least six months of experience eating food other than fast food. So I got a job at Ridgefields Country Club, where the famous Pearly Ryan took me under her wing. She was a great teacher and taught me a lot, especially in catering, and about using your imagination to create new dishes. At Johnson & Wales, she completed an associate’s degree in culinary arts and a bachelor’s degree in management. I worked for Ruby Tuesday, Aramark and Logan before I got the chance to open my own business within Eastman. I’ve been doing this for about 15 years and then I heard about the opportunity to buy this site and make it mine. I decided to do something myself again and came back to it.
Q: Explain in as much detail as possible why your restaurant attracts customers and how you maintain that atmosphere.
A: We have an open kitchen. The team here is very friendly. We get to know our customers. The food is wonderful. But it’s all about the team you have – that’s first and foremost. Teresa was here when she was with Sharon. She knows the regulars well, and that helped me. We interact with our guests. Even at busy times, we at least take time to turn around and say hi. The team is what makes the restaurant.
Q: Do you share recipes with your clients?
A: I have shared some recipes when old customers ask. But some recipes I don’t share.
Q: How do you think your restaurant is different from other restaurants in the Tri-Cities?
A: I am in a building that everyone knows. I can recall where Sharon used to be, and everyone remembers Sharon and where he was. We work daily to try and maintain the quality expectations that legacy brings to the minds of customers. Consistency and quality are key.
Q: What are the advantages and disadvantages of your site?
A: We are in a great location on a main street in the middle of the city, which continues to grow and develop. I don’t see any flaws.
Q: How often do you change the menu in the restaurant and why?
A: About a year ago, I toughened it up a bit, to reflect items that proved to be the most popular after the first couple of years. I have a lot of ideas for items to add. I won’t do that until the availability of workers allows me to expand the team. Our menu is very full, and our team knows how to prepare all the items. That knowledge maintains consistency in all our elements.
Q: What is your favorite cookbook?
A: I was born in New Orleans. My mom’s family is from there. We moved to Kingsport when I was about 5 years old. I don’t have a particular favorite cookbook, but I do love Cajun food and have many cookbooks at home from famous restaurants and chefs in that area.