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Boone Street has become a culinary community center

By Fred Sauceman • Dec 18, 2019 at 10:30 AM

Neal Smith learned to appreciate the flavor of trout when he was a young boy, on Sunday fishing trips with his father and grandfather in the waters of Northeast Tennessee. He learned to make omelets as he cooked his way across the country, in a West Virginia ski resort, a Cajun restaurant in Ohio, and a 127-year-old crawfish joint in Oregon.

In his kitchen today, those Tennessee memories and that culinary experience come together as he crafts buttery omelets filled with smoked trout.

For this Stoney Creek native, that kitchen is close to home. It’s inside the Boone Street Market in Jonesborough, where Smith prepares breakfast every Saturday morning.

Breakfast at Boone Street has become a regular event for us. I tasted my first pawpaw there one Saturday morning in the fall. On another day, Elke Hammer, a native of Germany, served us samples of her Christmas stollen, a spicy, nutty fruit bread that she bakes at her home in Mosheim.

The trout that Smith uses in his omelets is raised at Sunburst Trout Company in Western North Carolina, by a family that has been in the business since 1948. Boone Street strikes a balance between up-and-coming mountain businesses and those with a long and rich history.

Boone Street has become a culinary community center for Tennessee’s oldest town. You’ll likely see someone you know there, and you’ll likely make new friends before you leave.

And you’ll always learn something. When I ask Chef Neal what makes a good omelet, he answers quickly: butter. And that butter is always regional. The concept behind Boone Street Market is to stock items that have been grown, raised or produced within 100 miles of the business. The chunks of feta cheese in Smith’s omelets often come from across the mountain in Marshall, North Carolina, home of Three Graces Dairy.

The foundational principle of Boone Street Market is to return the maximum amount of money to the region’s farmers. Boone Street operates under the auspices of a not-for-profit organization called Jonesborough Locally Grown, created by visionary Jonesborough residents like Karen Childress and Curtis Buchanan and farmer Heather Halsey.

Jonesborough Locally Grown is a true partnership in every sense. Town of Jonesborough leaders, the Washington County Commission, a legion of volunteers, the state of Tennessee, and the federal government have all contributed to its success. In addition to the Boone Street Market, it operates the Jonesborough Farmers Market, which began in 2008 in the parking lot of the town’s library. Two years later, it moved to its current location, on Courthouse Square. That market is seasonal; Boone Street is open year-round.

David Phillips manages the Boone Street Market. His is a familiar face around Jonesborough. For almost nine years, the Clyde, North Carolina, native ran Dogwood Lane, a popular eatery where Texas Burritos & More is now located.

A walk through the Boone Street Market is a refresher course on the region’s food history and traditions. In the bottom of one cooler are packages of Allan Benton’s bacon. The bold, smoky bacon is known worldwide. Phillips says Boone Street sells about 100 packages of the heralded bacon every month, along with slabs of Benton’s long-cured country ham from Madisonville, Tennessee.

Like the talented and resourceful cooks he grew up around in Stoney Creek, Smith always saves some grease from that bacon. He uses it to season his Saturday morning gravy, with chunks of sausage from Worsham Spring Farm, a first-generation farm specializing in pasture-raised pork and located near Bristol, Virginia.

On a shelf not far from the bacon cooler are plastic jugs of Muddy Pond Sorghum, made since the 1960s on the Cumberland Plateau in Tennessee by the Guenther family. Smith includes the amber-colored, all-natural syrup on his breakfast menu as a topping for his buttermilk pancakes.

Boone Street’s inventory is a reminder of the tremendous seasonal variety of food in Appalachia. The offerings there change by the seasons. In the fall, space once occupied by Turkey Craw Beans and Cherokee Purple Tomatoes yields to sweet potatoes and persimmons.

A membership in the organization is only $50 a year, and you can make that up quickly since there is a five percent discount on merchandise for all members. Another advantage of membership is advance notification of the market’s many events, including the popular 100-Mile Dinners, which help raise funds for Jonesborough Locally Grown.

Boone Street Market isn’t large. It doesn’t need to be. In fact, it shouldn’t be. The space, once the site of a gasoline station, matches the mission perfectly. It’s the very antithesis of the mega-market, reminding its grateful patrons that small businesses matter.

Boone Street Market

101 Boone Street

Jonesborough, Tennessee

(423) 753-4722

www.jonesboroughlocallygrown.org

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