Editor’s note: In this series, local author David Aaron Moore answers reader-submitted questions about historic places in Charlotte. Submit inquires about unusual, noteworthy or historic people, places and things to [email protected]
I’ve been in Charlotte for only a few months now and my parents are coming to visit next week. I’d like to take them out to a restaurant that’s part of Charlotte history — something that’s been open for years and might be a little kitschy and fun. Any suggestions? — Carol Karras
So you wanna’ take a bite out of history, huh? Charlotte has a lot of restaurants that have been around for 50 years or even longer. I can’t name them all here, but I will offer some I’ve enjoyed in the past, ranging from a drive-in to a legendary pizza parlor and even an upscale steak house.
Bar-B-Q King, 2900 Wilkinson Blvd. 704-399-8344
This is the classic mid-century drive-in restaurant in every sense of the word. It opened in 1960 and still looks exactly the same today as it did back then: massive pink and blue neon roadside sign and neon trim encircling the entire building. There are covered drive-in spots that allow you to pull up, push a button on a half-century old intercom system and choose your favorite edible from an original lighted mid-century menu kiosk. Granted, it would be a lot more fun to eat dinner in your car if it was a 1960 Chevy (as opposed to a new Volkswagen Routan), but it’s still an entertaining and yummy trip back in time just to experience (in my opinion) Charlotte’s best barbecue. Or, sample “The Po-Boy” (touted as a “meal in itself,” it’s a giant double cheeseburger with all the toppings nestled on a huge plate of crispy fries), “golden battered” fish and chicken dinners, or their signature hot dog, which comes with chili, mustard and a dill-pickle chip on top. Wash it all down with an array of Coca-Cola products or sweet tea and you’ve got the Bar-B-Q King experience. Pete Gianikas came to work at the restaurant in 1961 and eventually purchased it from the original owners in 1972. Although Gianikas has since retired, his family (various nephews and sons) still continue to operate the restaurant today.
Beef 'n Bottle 4538 South Blvd. 704-523-9977
The building itself has been added onto multiple times over the years, but the general décor hasn’t changed very much since Beef 'n Bottle first opened in 1958. It’s dimly lit with an overall reddish hue and pictures of mid-century pop icons decorate the walls, while the music of classic crooners like Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Ella Fitzgerald can be heard playing softly in the background. Original owner George Fine passed away two years ago, but his brother and two co-owners continue on with the fine tradition of serving up high quality steaks, seafood and more. For many years, Beef 'n Bottle was considered one of the best dining experiences in Charlotte. These days, highly stylized contemporary eateries in uptown tend to draw those looking for an upscale culinary fest. However, longtime, committed customers and word-of-mouth passing from one generation to the next, keep hungry clientele coming back for shrimp cocktail, escargot, filet mignon, Oysters Rockefeller and frog legs. Note to the thirsty: alcoholic beverages available a-plenty.
Open Kitchen 1318 West Morehead St. 704-375-7449
This year marks the 60th anniversary for legendary pizzeria and Italian restaurant The Open Kitchen. Opened in 1952 by brothers Steve and Spiro Kokenes, it is today operated by Spiro’s son Alex and daughter Christina.
There’s a huge feast here; both for the eyes and the stomach. Outside, the cheesecake colored building is decorated with red and green striped awnings and 1950s retro signage. Inside there’s much more to see: 1970s black wrought-iron décor accessories, vintage movie posters and pop art; and red and white checkered table cloths.
When it comes to dining, the fare is truly old school Greek-infused Charlotte: for appetizers try kalimari, feta cheese or calamato olives. Main courses include various veal, chicken and eggplant barcelonas, scallopines and parmigianas. Noteworthy for being the first restaurant in town to serve pizza, the “Mama K Supreme” and “Pizza Ala Greque” deliciously live up to the expectations you’d have for a restaurant of this caliber.