Friday, March 25, 2016

Rediscovering Charlotte’s favorite forgotten foods

Charlotte has never been a culinary oasis, but there once were dishes in that were hometown favorites  (Photo: andrew taylor)
CHARLOTTEDid you ever try think about what you wanted for dinner and just could not come up with anything exciting or different? You know, one of those nights when nothing sounds good.

Longtime Charlotteans will know exactly what I am talking about when I say we should bring back some of our classic favorites that have, like so much of the city’s history, disappeared from the fabric of the Charlotte we once knew.

About a half a century ago, a group of young professional businessman began eating breakfast at Salem Suber’s Town House Restaurant. Some of the locals claimed “The Town House had the worst food and the best clientele in town.”
The Coffee Cup was an institution  (Photo: andrew taylor)

Actually the food was very good, but the phrase always got a chuckle. The Town House was located at the corner of Providence Road and Providence Road which automatically made it a Charlotte institution because no other city would dare have an intersection like that.

Today a gigantic Harris Teeter occupies the space, but old timers still long for Suber and his cigar stubs and the friendly atmosphere of the Town House.

Many of those up and coming businessmen are still around, even today. Still having breakfast every day of the week including Sundays and holidays. Still solving the world’s problems and telling lies.
South 21 is a local legacy (Photo: andrew taylor)

They call themselves the ROMEOs now, which stand for “Really Old Men Eating Out.” Over the years they have shut down the Town House, Rogers Barbecue, the Athens and John’s Country Kitchen before settling on their most recent hangout at Showmar’s on East 7th Street.

Though some of the original members remain, the group has morphed over the decades, losing some and gaining others, the fellowship remains a cross section of Charlotte history. The ROMEOs know everything and they are not afraid to tell anyone who will listen.

One morning during a lull in the usual lively political/sports/religion debate, the guys began reminiscing about things they used to love to eat in Charlotte that are no longer available.

Athens was one of a few all night eateries where breakfast in the wee hours was like the barroom scene in Star Wars  (Photo: andrew taylor)
After much discussion, they decided to create a menu featuring nothing but items that were once treasured Charlotte “delicacies.” Mind you, that does not necessarily mean “fine dining.” What it does mean is that we miss many of the things we can no longer get when we have a hankering for something that is pure Charlotte.

With that in mind, here is the ROMEOs’ list of Charlotte cuisine that has disappeared from our palates.

Charlotte’s Landmark Cuisine


Dolamades (Epicurean) – Delicious stuffed grape leaves filled with lamb, beef or cheese that came to the table before every meal. Dolamades may still be around Charlotte somewhere, but they cannot rival the Epicurean.

Shrimp Cocktail (Ranch House) – It had nothing to do with the shrimp. It was all about that horseradish sauce that would bring tears to your eyes and make you beg for more.

Fried Pickles (Penguin) – Yeah, you can still get fried pickles in Charlotte, but NOT like the ones they had at the Penguin.

Onion Rings (Herlocker’s/John Country Kitchen)


Lobster Bisque (The Chateau) – The Chateau occupied two different locations on Morehead Street, but the menu was great in either place, and the lobster soup was a specialty.

Andersons was home to the Hot Dorsey Sandwich -- a Charlotte favorite that has disappeared  (Photo: andrew taylor)

Hot Dorsey Sandwich (Anderson’s) – It wasn’t even a sandwich, though it did have a piece of bread at the bottom of the casserole dish. Served piping hot and full of chicken, cheese, bacon, mushrooms and Anderson’s “special sauce” the Hot Dorsey was unique and delicious.

The Gambler (Town House) – Before there was Harris Teeter, an A&P occupied space next door to the Town House. Salem Suber would purchase inexpensive, but tasty, steaks there and serve them in his restaurant. Now and then they could be a little “chewy”, hence the name, but more often than not it was a lot of bang for your steak-loving buck.

Roast Pork Egg Foo Yung (Ho Toy)

Broasted Chicken (The Venus) – Looked fried, tasted better.

Prime Rib (Slug’s Rib)

Great smoke barbecue  (Photo: andrew taylor)

Barbecue (Camp Greene/Old Hickory House) – Smoked beef and pork with flavor unlike any other in town.

Chateauburger (The Chateau) – Quite simply the best and juiciest hamburger you will ever eat.

Country Ham (Laura’s Rozelle House) – You could spend a lifetime just talking about the family style chicken, Salisbury steak and home-cooked veggies at Laura’s but the country ham was so good that it stands alone.

Double Dipped Wings (Press Box) – The crunchiest most flavorful wings ever.

Deep Dish Pizza (La Strada) – There’s pizza and there is pizza. THIS was PIZZA!

Pancakes (John’s Country Kitchen) – If you never tried one of Jimmy Margiotis’ pancakes you never had a real pancake.

Leo’s Special (Leo’s Delicatessen) – A combination of salami, pastrami, corned beef, bologna and Swiss cheese, piled high and served on your choice of bread with chips and a pickle for $5.50. Best deli sandwich anywhere until you got to New York.


Pecan Pie (Andersons) – They said it was the “world’s best” and it might have been. We’ll never know.

Almond Cookies (Ming Tree)

Homemade Ice Cream (Spoon’s)

Mississippi Mud Pie (Dikadee’s)
Coldest beer in town (Photo: andrew taylor)


Peanuts (Tanner’s) – Bowls of big fat salted peanuts with the skins still on them were all you needed for a between meal treat.


Orange & Grape Drinks (Tanner’s) – They were served so cold they made your teeth hurt, but they were a marvelous way to wash down those peanuts.

Beer (Penguin) – Today we have lots of superb micro-breweries and favorite watering holes, but nobody in Charlotte served a colder brew.
Prices lives on as part of a dying past  (Photo: andrew taylor)
There you have it. Nobody said it was a healthy menu, and it certainly isn’t overwhelming in size, but the ROMEOs will just bet that those old time flavors are coming back to your taste buds now. 

For more photographs of Charlotte’s lost history click on:  CharlotteLandmarks

If you think of any more, let us know. Our menu is flexible, adaptable and waiting for more of Charlotte’s dining treasures of the past.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Traveling happiness leads to Relais & Chateaux

Relais & Chateaux organized a group of unique hotel properties throughout Europe more than 60 years ago  (wikipedia)
FRANCEOne of the great rewards of travel is discovering unique accommodations filled with charm, character and personality. More than six decades ago, Relais & Chateaux formed an association in the south of France to capture that spirit and travelers have been the beneficiaries ever since.
Each hotel is distinctive in its own way  (wikipedia)

It was the vision of two music-hall artists, Marcel and Nelly Tilloy, who owned Hotel La Cardinale in the Rhone Valley, that inspired the exciting inn-keeping concept that captured the imagination of globe-trotters from every corner of the planet.

As with so many things that reach a pinnacle of success, the magic erupted from the simplicity of the idea. Combining the authenticity and history of eight entirely different off-the-beaten-path properties between Paris and Nice, the Tilloys organized a non-chain chain of hotels that provided diverse travel experiences in their own right.
Many of the properties are French chateaux but there are also manor houses and townhouses that capture the imagination  (wikipedia)
United by common values of the highest quality amenities, exquisite culinary adventures, the individual personalities of their owners and a love of life and living, the original octet merged to become the prestigious hotel Association of Relais & Chateaux.

Today with more than 530 properties in 65 countries on 5 continents, most Relais & Chateaux properties are historic landmarks that include castles, manor houses or townhouses nestled in idyllic surroundings featuring magnificent cuisine.
Superb cuisine is a hallmark of Relais & Chateaux properties...Dining room at Hotel Georges Blanc  (
As President Philippe Gombert sums it up, Relais & Chateaux offers “a better world through cuisine and hospitality.”

It’s a difficult argument to dispute.

Breathtaking scenery is also part of the philosophy  (wikipedia)
Membership is not awarded without strict adherence to the “Five C” method of evaluation; Caractere, Courtoisie, Calme et Cuisine. The words may be French but the meaning is universal. Though each property is distinctive with its own personality, all members must meet the same rigid standards:

The soul of the Innkeeper – Each property owner must add his or her own personal touch within its environment. As Relais & Chateaux likes to say “each property beats to the innkeeper’s heart.”

The taste of the land – Member inns must reflect the local surroundings including the environment, architecture, landscaping, leisure activities and, of course, the food.

The passport of friendship – All Relais & Chateaux member share the same core values of making guests feel welcome by getting to know them personally.

The celebration of the senses: More than a just place to sleep and to eat, Relais & Chateaux properties immerse their guests into the local culture in ways that appeal to each of the senses.

An awakening to the “Art of Living” – There was a time when travel meant that “getting to” a destination was as much a part of the adventure as the destination itself. Relais & Chateaux renews that spirit by making each visit a journey of discovery.
Chateau Mirambeau between Bordeaux and Cognac is another example of the Relais & Chateaux experience  (wikipedia)
La Cardinale Hotel/Restaurant was an authentic 17th century farmhouse overlooking the Rhone Valley and the mountains in the distance. With rich fields of fruit, lavender and sun-flowers plus vineyards, these were the seeds that evolved and grew into the Relais & Chateaux Association of today.

To celebrate the 60th anniversary of Relais & Chateaux in 2014, 60 chefs met in Ain, France for a luncheon at the Vonnas Georges Blanc along with historical members and journalists from around the world. Several gourmet festivals were organized throughout the year including 11 in Switzerland and Liechtenstein, 32 in Italy, 30 in the UK and 15 in Austria, Eastern Europe and Northern Europe.
Accommodations that are a feast for the senses  (wikipedia)

There is no question that each of the chefs at a Relais & Chateaux property sets his personal standards as being a “virtuoso of taste.”

With its distinctive fleur de lis-style vector logo designed to reflect the joy and happiness of a four-leaf clover, Relais & Chateaux has earned the distinction that travelers recognize as something truly special much in the way they understand that a UNESCO World Heritage Site is also a one-of-a-kind experience.
Flower boxes and half-timbered facades adorn Hotel Les Saules  in Vonnas in the Rhone Valley (wikipedia)
Way back in 1954 the eight original inns were linked as a culinary itinerary along the road that ran parallel to the tracks of the world famous Blue Train. The advertising slogan, much like the hotel concept itself, was simple; “La Route du Bonheur” or basically “the road to happiness.”
Exterior of the Georges Blanc restaurant at dusk  (

Marcel and Nelly Tilloy were visionaries who created a new world of elegance and charm for travelers. You might say they developed their own personal “unchained melody.”

Friday, March 11, 2016

Dining at a train station? Try Le Train Bleu in Paris

Le Train Bleu restaurant in Gare de Lyon railway station in Paris hearkens to the Golden Age of travel  (wikipedia)
PARIS When you think of historic landmarks, chances are a train station is not the first thing that comes to mind. Perhaps that is one reason Le Train Bleu in Paris is so unique.

In the last half of the 20th century railways were the catalyst for what we know today as “mass tourism.” And from the creativity of Thomas Cook, who recognized the potential and interest for group travel, an entire subset of hospitality services emerged such as grand hotels and restaurants.

Le Train Bleu restaurant in the Gare de Lyon in Paris is one of the few remaining landmarks that hearkens to that golden age of travel when “getting to” a destination was as much a part of a journey as the destination itself.

At the turn of the 20th century, Paris was awarded a new Universal Exhibition scheduled to open in 1900. In order to promote the railway lines to the Southwest regions of France, the PLM Company (Paris, Lyon, Marseille) decided to build a prestigious restaurant in the Gare de Lyon that would symbolize travel, technical innovation, luxury and comfort.

Gare de Lyon's famous Clock Tower in Paris  (gare de lyon)
Architect Marius Toudoire, who also built the famous 210-foot Clock Tower and façade of the Gare de Lyon railway station, was given the project which was unveiled in 1901.

For travelers, Americans in particular, it is difficult to imagine such elegance displayed in, of all places, a railway terminal. Le Train Bleu has the appearance of a turn of the 20th century museum filled with carvings, moldings, chandeliers and frescoes that cover the walls and ceiling of the restaurant.
The decor of Le Train Bleu is unrivaled with over 40 canvas paintings representing destinations in France  (wikipedia)
Twenty-seven French artists contributed to the amazing unparalleled décor. With 41 canvas paintings by the most prominent artists of the day, historic scenes depict the main cities along the PLM line including Paris, Lyon, Marseille, Orange, Villefrance, Monaco, Nice, Saint-Honorat and even the Mont-Blanc massif itself.

Le Train Bleu (the Blue Train) was a legendary rail line operating between Calais, Paris and the Cote d’Azur (Blue Coast) or French Riviera. Officially known by its formal name, the Calais-Mediterranee Express, the luxury overnight French express train was affectionately called the Blue Train. Following World War II, the formal name was changed due to the dark blue sleeping cars on the train.

TGVs now provide high speed service to the south  (wikipedia)
Service began in 1886 and ended more than a century later in 2003. During that time, Le Train Bleu gained an international reputation as the preferred train of the rich and famous en route to the French Riviera.

In order to accommodate the lifestyles of its prestigious clientele, the Train Bleu restaurant had to be equal to the luxury of the train itself.

Le Train Bleu restaurant received its official moniker in 1963 when Albert Chazal renamed the buffet. (Railway station restaurants are frequently referred to in Europe as “buffets” which do not carry the same connotation as the word as it is commonly used in the U.S.)

Thanks to the efforts of Jacques Duhamel, Le Train Bleu was designated a Historic Monument in 1972 which will ensure its rich heritage among European landmarks.
It's easy to see the appeal to celebrities  (wikipedia)

Over its storied history, numerous scenes have been filmed in Le Train Bleu, and “regular” patrons included Coco Chanel, Brigitte Bardot, Jean Cocteau, Colette, Jean Gabin and Marcel Pagnol among others.

The décor of Le Train Bleu alone is enough to guarantee an unforgettable dining experience, but the personalized service, exquisite menu and rich wine list only enhance a visit to this legendary gastronomic institution. Le Train Bleu is not a place for a quick meal between trains. Rather it is a site reserved for the “art” of fine cuisine.

Not only is the ambiance spectacular, so are the menus featuring leg of lamb and smoked salmon  (wikipedia)
The a la carte menus are changed several times throughout the year to reflect seasonal products and to ensure that the freshest ingredients are used in preparation.
Never quiet, the Gare de Lyon is a place of constant activity with people "coming from" and "going to" (wikipedia)
With an average of approximately 500 covers per day, favorite dishes include leg of lamb carved at the table, homemade semi-cooked duck foie gras, homemade smoked salmon, roasted Foyot veal chop and the rum “baba” cake.

Sadly, the contemporary need for speed has made high-speed rail services the standard for travel throughout France and Europe. As such, restaurants and services such as Le Train Bleu are becoming anachronisms of a time when people were able to “travel for travel’s sake.”
Whether you begin or end a journey at Le Train Bleu, it will make your trip an adventure  (wikipedia)
The Blue Train stopped service in 2003 after being replaced by ultra-high speed TGVs which greatly reduce travel time between Paris and the Riviera.

Indeed the “Golden Age of Travel” conjures a powerful sense of nostalgia at Le Train Bleu restaurant in Paris.

Friday, March 4, 2016

The Baroque Road in Germany is a half century old

Riedlingen, Germany is a typical village along Germany's Baroque Road which celebrates its 50th birthday this year  (wikipedia)
UPPER SWABIA, GERMANYRemember the old saying “All roads lead to Rome”? That may have changed in the new century with Germany as the new leader.

Whatever your traveling desires may be, Germany just may be the most creative country in the world at finding ways to immerse visitors into its culture.

With no less than three popular major travel routes that encompass various historic and folkloric themes, it is easy for people who long to get far from the madding crowds to lose themselves in Germany.

The Baoque Road meanders along the Danube in places (wikipedia)
The Romantik Road journeys through the quaint villages and majestic castles of Bavaria, while the Fairy Tale Road retraces the footsteps of the Brothers Grimm and the children’s stories everyone knows so well.

This year, the Baroque Road, another of Germany’s legendary cultural pathways, turns 50 meandering through Upper Swabia along the Danube and Lake Constance. Here the storybook landscape comes alive with Baroque castles, palaces, abbeys and churches.

Actually the Baroque Road is not a single route, but four different courses for visitors to enjoy. If you happen to be in Germany on June18th of this year, the actual anniversary date, numerous attractions will celebrate the event with a program called “Long Night of the Baroque.”

The cathedral in Ulm dominates the surroundings while overlooking the river  (wikipedia)
Baroque architecture came into vogue in the late 16th century and for the next hundred years or so the embellishments of gold and marble made their way through Europe and on to the New World.

Germany was a little late to the party, due in large part to the Thirty Years War and the counter-reformation by the Catholic Church, but once the Baroque movement began, it didn’t take long to catch up.

The largely depopulated regions within Upper Swabia soon became overwhelmed by immigrants to the area who contributed heavily to an economic upturn that provided considerable funding for the restoration of existing buildings. With the Baroque period in full swing combined with nobility whose territories were mostly small or, at best, modest in size, dwelling places were quickly renovated into the Baroque style.

The building frenzy lasted from approximately 1650 to the French Revolution with the result for travelers today being a magnificent concentration of Baroque architecture that can be experienced along the 300 miles of Germany’s backroads and countryside.

The Main route is circular, beginning and ending in Ulm with its famous cathedral. Along the way, the road passes through Bad Wurzach where the castle features the most beautiful Baroque-style staircase in Upper Swabia.

A Baroque ceiling in Bad Wurzach  (wikipedia)
Many towns along the quartet of roads are spa villages. You can easily recognize them because they have the German word Bad in front of their name, which means “bath” or “spa.”

Beginning in Riedlingen, the West route terminates on Lake Constance.

Travelers wishing to sample a taste of other countries may want experience the South route which travels around Lake Constance from Kressbronn am Bodensee before passing through Austria and Switzerland ending in Meersburg which is home to the oldest castle in Germany.

For those with limited time, the East route is the shortest, but no matter which path you choose, each is filled with a treasure trove of interesting villages and stunning Baroque architecture.

Mention the Baroque period and typically architecture comes to mind, but remember the Baroque style is not limited to buildings. It can also include art, gardens and other cultural manifestations that grew out of the movement.

Germany alone has 140 UNESCO World Heritage Sites, which means it is practically impossible to travel the country without stumbling upon something unique and interesting. With countless villages and towns along the Baroque Road, of which there are too to list, a visitor cannot help but encounter something that appeals to even the most hardened sensitivities.
The castle in Erbach is an impressive site for travelers  (wikipedia)

The tiny village of Erbach, for example, which nestles along the Main route, features a shop where travelers can observe artisans sculpting ivory.
Interior view of the ancient Meersburg Castle, the oldest castle in Germany  (wikipedia)
While the Romantik Road, the Fairy Tale Road and the Baroque Road may among Germany’s best known touristic routes, travelers will also discover a Wine Road, a Clock Road and even a Timber-Frame Road.

Want to be a “Roads Scholar.”? Just head to Germany. There’s a path suitable for just about every traveler’s desires.