Monday, August 2, 2010

The "Bird" IS most definitely the word...

The Penguin Drive-In
1921 Commonwealth Ave.
Charlotte, NC 28205
Food: Dive
After the near debacle I experienced in the Land of Lincoln (or as I know it “Land of Big Government Cronyism) I was relieved to be back below the Mason Dixon Line and in the mood for food that would erase my mid-west mind numbing experience.

Needless to say I found it. And it took less than 4.423721 minutes.

The Penguin Drive In, or “the Bird” as the locals call it, is a local institution in Charlotte North Carolina. It’s been around for 60 years and is steeped in tradition and history. I know that because the place looks like it hasn’t been cleaned since then, and in my book, that’s a good thing.
Upon my arrival I was immediately at home. See… SuitOchoCinco can fit in anywhere. But he prefers the salt of the earth, real blue collar men and women that don’t sugar coat anything and are forthright in their opinion and unabashed about their food. The Penguin is such a place.

From the pre-historic rotating sign greeting you as you pull in; to the rust coated sign declaring “sandwiches and short orders” this place was my kinda joint. As I carefully navigated the abundance of potholes and pulled into the parking lot I knew I was in for a treat.

And I deserved it. After marinating in 3 hours of delays in the airport the night before, and dealing with the incompetent and rude Avis rent-a-car clerk, it was going to take more than the free upgrade from the sub compact to the full sized Impala to turn my mood around. I got barely any decent sleep and sat in meeting after meeting all day today and was ready to loosen my tie and have a beer.

I walked to the front door past the remnants of the prior life of this business when it was a full service drive thru over 45 years ago. There were still outdoor counters against long but-gone sliding ordering windows next to a water fountain from circa 1963. I entered thru the heavily armored front door blazoned by a neon “open” sign. See apparently after its hay days in the 50’s, 60’s the Carter administration had as much affect on this establishment as it did on America. It destroyed it. This area became seedy and overrun by a rotten element and before it closed temporarily for awhile the steel bars on the doors were a necessity.

That’s ok though, because its back, and with a vengeance I might add. As I walked in the door you couldn’t help but notice the nearly 50 “Best of” awards this place has stacked up in the past 9 years and I couldn’t help but smile, I knew this was gonna be good.

I sat at the rag tag barely put together bar and was greeted by a beautiful, but heavily tattooed, pierced and died haired barkeep named Lisa. The rest of the staff was pretty much the same… all of their skin was adorned in heavy amounts of ink and they all had holes where the good Lord didn’t intend for there to be them, and I’m pretty sure the dress code was ripped jeans and t-shirts… but it couldn’t get any better. The cook gave me a dirty look and I knew, I was in for a ride.

I opened the menu and immediately knew. I needed the Big Block Burger, 2 1/3 pound patties “Southern Style” (Chili, Fresh Cut Yellow Onion, Slaw and Mustard) Slathered in Cheese along with their signature and world renowned (literally) homemade pimento cheese melted between two pieces of toast and a pint of their local brew, Farmer Teds Pale Ale to wash it down.

A picture is worth a thousand words so instead of describing the food I’ll let you be the judge.

Yeah. I know… It was simply freaking fantastic, with my first bite I was drawn to proclaim, “Holy Crap!” and everyone looked at me and smiled, it had obviously happened before.
On a side note, I had obviously gotten there just in time (about 4:45) because a pile of prospective patrons began to flood the building as I was finishing up and I had to wade thru a sea of expectant guests just to reach my sleek black “free upgrade” Chevy “I took a Bailout” Impala to leave this Mecca of burger delight. (I was told by Lisa there is a 45 minute wait everyday at lunch and dinner and the ”wait” is forced out of this very tiny establishment into the sweltering heat the South tends to deliver, by the way….yeah they don’t care, it’s well worth it.)
PS Apparently they are also famous for their monstrosity of "Pig Pickin" every Fourth of July... which was basically the cherry on top of this already amazing experiance. Go to the "Bird"

Rating: Seriously thought about buying the t-shirt but it didn’t look like the case hadn't been opened in ten years and seriously the shirt was as grimy as the floor J

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