I got an e-mail today from my friend Sarah. The subject line was “Sad news for you.” It was truly sad news. As I read the blog post that told me one of my very favorite restaurants, Hotel Charlotte, was closing after 31 years, all I could hear in my head was Lydia Bennet saying, “Our hearts are broken.”
I can remember the very first time I went to Hotel Charlotte. At my first real job, my boss, Rodger, and I would get taken out to lunch by advertising reps. One day, we happened to go to Hotel Charlotte. This was back in 1998. I even remember where we sat, on the far left wall, on the platform. I remember the train going round and round. The dark wood, the creaky floors, the long bar.
I’ve been going there ever since, and over time it became a favorite haunt. I love that the owner, Steve, would greet you at the door. And Sammy, the bartender, would surprise me with some fruity cocktail (because I’m not much of a beer drinker).
Anytime a new transplant to Charlotte asks me where good places to eat are, Hotel Charlotte was always at the top of my list. Most times, those transplants are from up north. So, naturally, I have to steer them to my very favorite (truly Southern) dish on Hotel Charlotte’s menu: pimiento cheese fritters. Oh, such delicious little balls of heaven. Warm cheese, crispy coating, served with a sweet pepper relish. The combination was simply genius – hot and cold, sweet and spicy – it doesn’t get much better.
Most of my family and friends know that I steer away from chain restaurants in general (there are a few exceptions to this rule, I’ll write another time). I like to support local restaurants, where the food and service are better. It’s difficult for me to understand why people will wait in line for hours at a well-known Aussie steakhouse, when they could have gone to McIntosh’s (which is also closed, by the way), for an infinitely better dining experience. So, here’s my plea to you, dear readers…get out of the chain restaurant rut…try Good Food on Montford, or Ru Sans, or Luce, or Blue, or Sir Ed’s, or Baoding, or The Roasting Company, or Alexander Michael’s, or Sole, or … (please feel free to add your faves below; I’m always looking for new things to try!)
Goodbye to Hotel Charlotte, Frankie’s, McIntosh’s, The Coffee Cup and others who have gone away. I miss you, and your pimiento cheese fritters, your bruschetta, your steak and your banana pudding.