wireless_kitchen (2006-10)

Mimi Who?

Don’t judge Turkey Creek newest café by its cover

by Gay Lyons

When I heard about Mimi’s Café, I pictured a lovely bistro and looked forward to meeting Mimi. I knew she’d be French, and chic. When I arrived, I realized Mimi’s was a national chain—not that there’s anything wrong with that. Or surprising. Turkey Creek is Knoxville’s Mecca for retail and restaurant chains. But my vision of a bistro vanished along with my hopes of meeting the charming Mimi.

When my friend Beverly and I had lunch at Mimi’s Café, we immediately felt sorry for our server. Just a guess, but if it’s your first day on the job, you probably want tables full of sweet grandmother types who’ll say, “That’s all right. I didn’t need that glass of water anyway,” instead of me and my note pad.

The restaurant, which is open 7 a.m.-11 p.m., has a breakfast menu, a lunch and dinner menu, a kids menu and a “lifestyle” menu of low-fat and low-carb dishes. To be honest, I felt overwhelmed the same way I do when standing in a supermarket cereal aisle, but if you’re looking for a restaurant that offers whatever you might happen to be in the mood for, Mimi’s is the place for you. Mimi’s menu not only has categories; it has sub -categories.

Mimi’s is not going to be my first choice for a steak, but the 12-oz. sirloin was cooked just as I ordered it. The jasmine rice I requested since baked potatoes weren’t available turned out to be gloppy white rice, which was cheerfully and quickly replaced with some truly tasty mashed potatoes. About that time I realized I was served the wrong vegetable, but I decided to emulate the sweet grandmother and say, “That’s all right. One vegetable’s as good as another.” I know our server would have set things right if I’d asked, but, having just rejected the rice, I hated to ask.

The crab cakes my friend ordered were moist and mildly flavored but very heavily breaded. The exterior breading was an interestingly crunchy counterpart to the crab, but if you’re a purist (like my friend Keith who quotes his Aunt Iva on the subject: “Bread should be served alongside, not inside, a crab cake”), you probably won’t like these. The French fries served with the crab cakes were basic shoestring fries, not salty enough for me. The finely chopped slaw was better, with chopped parsley mixed with the cabbage, adding taste and color.

The meal was good, but not sensational. The full dining rooms and parking lot and the waiting list are evidence of Mimi’s popularity. I wondered whether my experience was tainted by my disappointment at not finding the bistro I’d envisioned. I decided another trip was warranted—this time for breakfast.

The extensive breakfast menu offers seven omelets, nine variations of pancakes, waffles and French toast and nine egg dishes, including eggs with corned beef hash, eggs with Cajun chicken sausage and eggs with pot roast (which sounds weird, but I’ll keep an open mind). We decided to order two dishes designated as “signature items”: the Monterrey omelet with bacon, avocado and salsa and the pain perdu.

The omelet was moist, the avocado slices soft and ripe and the bacon crispy and well done, but the salsa, while fresh, was tasteless. And the chunks of fried red potatoes seemed bland. As I squirted Tabasco into the salsa and sprinkled salt and pepper on the potatoes, I reminded myself that not everyone likes food as highly flavored and seasoned as I do. The bottles of hot and mild Tabasco and other sauces and seasonings on the tables at Mimi’s are there for people like me.

The pain perdu was a stuffed combination of French toast, cream cheese and orange marmalade, which added some zing. The accompanying scrambled eggs were a little dry for my taste, not nearly as moist as the omelet. One of the restaurant’s specialties is its muffins. The large carrot-raisin muffin we shared tasted of spice cake with visible flecks of carrots and moist raisins.

Friends we ran into, having eaten breakfast at a Mimi’s Café in Colorado, were happy to see it in Knoxville, a town with too few restaurants serving breakfast. I’ll second that.

It’s not going to be my favorite restaurant, but Mimi’s Café is exactly what it set out to be. According to its website, the goal is to offer the “quality, ambiance and personal service of a dinner house, with the convenience and great value of a coffee shop.” During breakfast, when I confided to my husband that I kept having this feeling I was in a Bob Evans restaurant, he gave me that look he gives me when I’ve said something totally off the wall. But I was correct. Sort of. It turns out Mimi’s Café is a subsidiary of Bob Evans Farms, Inc. So there.  

And who is Mimi? It turns out she’s a French woman the founder’s father met toward the end of World War II. Like I said, I knew she’d be French. And probably chic.