In 1954 Jim and Jean Ballentine purchased an ice cream shop in the Plaza-Midwood neighborhood in Charlotte, North Carolina. Populated with families and craftsman style bungalow homes, The Penguin (locally known as "The Bird") was an anchor of the neighborhood during its hay-day serving ice cream, burgers and hot dogs.
Over the years Charlotte sprawled into the county and the neighborhood fell into decline. The family run businesses that surrounded The Penguin moved and were replaced with adult entertainment establishments. Business slowed and the local hot spot fell into disrepair, closing its doors in 1999.
Since that time, interest in rehabbing the neighborhood took hold. Families moved back to the area to rehab homes and a group of punk rock kids took over The Penguin, bringing the business back to life. Today, like in the past, The Penguin is a local hot spot with great food and lines running out the door.
I've been waiting for some time to visit The Penguin, specifically to try a new favorite of mine, deep fried pickles. I've been hooked on this dish since Sara and I visited Gulf Shores, Alabama on our honeymoon. Whereas the pickles in Alabama were breaded with corn meal, the pickles at The Penguin have a light and thin coating that reminds me of tempura. Served with ranch dressing, the fried pickles were a great pairing for a beer and the local soda, a cherry flavored drink called Cheerwine.
As soon as the pickles were polished off, I dug into The Penguin's Big Block Burger. The Big Block Burger is two beef patties weighing a combined 2/3rd of a pound topped with lettuce, tomato, pickles and onions.
Finishing off the meal was a Race Track Dog topped with mustard, a loose meat chili, a mayo based cole slaw and chopped onions.
The most memorable part of this hot dog was the scent of chili and cole slaw that hung low over the table as we ate and made me hesitant to try this dog. However, missing out on this treat would have been a mistake. The cole slaw was light and had a tang that you normally find with a vinegar based slaw. Hidden beneath the dog was a spicy mustard that completes each bite with just a bit of heat.
A few other treats enjoyed at our lunch at The Penguin:
The Tupelo Special - Peanut Butter and Banana on Texas Toast
Thin sliced onion rings with a lonely pickle riding on top.