Lately, the borders of Charlotte's culinary explosion have begun to blur: Not all is as new as perceived. New school locavores sometimes forget that Charlotte's forgotten gastronomic past included "fresh my farm" vegetables (the slogan used on signs, menus, and yes, painted on the building at Gus Bacogeorge's Gus' Sir Beef, a "meat and three" restaurant), a favorite side in the old-style "meat and three" restaurants that thrived in the city for a time. They have also forgotten the Price's Chicken Coop that used to raise their own chickens, and orangeade was the drink to sip when eating hot dogs at Wad's on East Boulevard or grilled cheese sandwiches at the counter at Park Place Pharmacy in Myers Park. Orangeade is made with fresh oranges and is similar to the popular San Pellegrino Aranciata, but without the fizz.
Now, orangeade and other comforts foods of Charlotte's past are mixed together with new dishes at Letty's in Plaza Midwood, which opened last December. Owner Letty Ketner, known to many Charlotteans from her days at Hotel Charlotte, a now-gone restaurant in Cotswold, took over the space that was formerly Foskoskies Neighborhood Café. Before that, the location had been the original site of Pike's Soda Shop. The old pop shop counter, now a bar, lives on at Letty's, as does Pike's recipe for its classic pecan chicken oozing with honey, still sided with a ubiquitous 1950s-styled broccoli and cheese casserole.
The 80-seat space includes a patio in the rear and a side dining area. And since Letty's is not on the main drag of Plaza Midwood, the interior is more whimsical than P-M funky. But what lures people to a neighborhood spot has always been the promise of authenticity and a strong sense of community. You will find that here.
The casual menu at Letty's is a streamlined eclectic mix of today's simple tastes with conspicuous echoes of the past. Vegan lentil soup is on the list with shrimp creole, a recipe from Hotel Charlotte. Shrimp and cheese grits reside next to vegetarian meatloaf. Most of the items on the menu come in both full and small orders, with full orders under $13.
The sizzling shrimp starter with its pronounced garlicky flavored scampi has an abundance of medium-sized shrimp. Letty's stack-the-app is the rather heavy-handed "Hummacho" with layers of pita, Turkish accented ground beef, pinto beans and a cloak of thick hummus, studded with feta cheese, banana peppers and sour cream.
Sandwiches and entrées are tweaked with just enough to keep things going. The Carolina burger is a hefty patty tucked into a Portuguese bun and slathered with house-made beef chili, cabbage slaw and mustard — and is cooked to preference. The beer-battered haddock, served with a gaggle of potato wedges, is a fine rendition of fish and chips and pretty much perfect: crunchy, relatively greaseless and full of finfish flavor. Some items, though, require attention from the kitchen — the fried okra needs a dusting shake before frying. If dessert feels like overkill, order another biscuit.
Food is delivered by a cheerful fleet of servers. You can tell that service is the priority here. Ketner has always worked the front of the house, which may be why she seems to know at least half the customers who enter her place. All customers are greeted with a smile. Some get hugs. I expect no one is a stranger on the second go.
Letty's is not a throwback to Old Charlotte by any means, although this is the first place I can remember that offers the same version of an entrée dish — the honey-pecan chicken — through three successive restaurants. For those who used to frequent Charlotte's iconic neighborhood eateries now gone, some of their flavors live here. For new folks, Letty's offers homey and satisfying food at inexpensive prices. This is the type of neighborhood place where a family of four can eat familiar and comforting food inexpensively — and get a malted milkshake or old school orangeade, to boot.