CRW Day 4: Checking in to Hotel Charlotte

Day 4:  Hotel Charlotte

On Tuesday night of CRW, we did the “neighborhood” thing and popped into Hotel Charlotte for the first time in at least a decade. This pub-y place “where the locals eat” is chock-full of character and is truly Charlotte’s version of Cheers. Hell, they even have a bartender named Sam . . . who’s only worked there for twenty-six years.

Hotel Charlotte Restaurant gets its name from the numerous artifacts salvaged and installed from the original Hotel Charlotte (est. 1912) that sat on West Trade Street where the Carillon building now stands. Once the most luxurious hotel in town, it was imploded in 1988 after sitting vacant for years.

The original name of this warm and cozy neighborhood hangout was Danny’s Speakeasy, named for founding owner Danny Royer. But apparently nobody would, or could, remember the name and just called it “the place with the stuff from Hotel Charlotte.”  Well, if ya can’t beat ’em . . .

The most notable remnants from the hotel are numerous solid cherry valet doors melded decoratively into the restaurant’s walls, a giant mahogany bar that’s got to be one of the longest in town, and various photos from the hotel, circa early- to mid-1900s. The restaurant also claims the largest, and certainly most fun, beer club in town, offering 155 beers from around the world.  If you quaff enough suds selections, you get a t-shirt; if you drink all 155, you get a mug and your name embossed on the Hall of Foam. If you do it several times over (one patron has been through the list sixty times), you get a new liver.

Oh, and they have food, too — good comfort food from the South with a New Orleans flair. This is another restaurant that was particularly excited about Charlotte Restaurant Week, and its menu, staff, and owner showed it.

The Princess (that would be Jill) started with Pimento Cheese Fritters served with a sweet tomato jelly – which she finished off with a spoon (she really likes tomatoes), followed by a Pear Salad laced with dried cranberries, pecans, and a raspberry vinaigrette. Next was an entrée of Cajun Fettuccine that included a generously portioned topping of sautéed shrimp, mussels, bay scallops, and andouille sausage tossed with pasta in a spicy cream sauce. We’ll be fighting over her leftovers for Wednesday’s lunch if anybody wants to get a bet down.

I just had to start with the famous She Crab Soup that Hotel Charlotte has been serving for over fifteen years, then the Caesar Salad, followed by the Super Duper Jumbo Gumbo crammed with blackened chicken, andouille sausage, oysters, Gulf shrimp, bay scallops, and crawfish on a bed of white rice smothered with a dark and sexy slow-cooked gumbo. 

We augmented our meal with a pleasant and not-too-expensive bottle of Pinot Noir from Willamette Valley (detect a pattern here)?  The food at Hotel Charlotte is all quite good and plentiful — nothing pretentious, just tasty eats in a very comfortable place filled with nice people of all sorts who really want to be there.

But the desserts really take the cake – so to speak.  Jill is a self-proclaimed expert (I’m not gonna argue with her) on bread pudding. We once took a Mississippi riverboat cruise, on which they served a different version of bread pudding each night at dinner . . . and she tried every damn one of them. This evening, all I heard were murmurs of delight and the rapid clinking of the fastest spoon in the East as she devoured this White Chocolate variation — packed full of delightfully gooey bread and white chocolate custard with a warm white chocolate sauce. Okay, she let me try some, too. That’s real love, buddy.

I ordered the Speakeasy Crepes, which arrives as a pair of crepe doobies filled with vanilla ice cream and topped with chocolate sauce and pecans. Being a self-proclaimed (if she can do it, so can I) aficionado of all things ice cream, I declared my dessert excellent. Just roll me outta this joint; I’m full as a tick.

This is the first CRW night that we encountered fellow customers that we know, an amazing thing in this big little town. We ran into friends Darrell and Sandy Myers, with whom we’ve dined elsewhere numerous times. Darrell was apparently a regular at Hotel Charlotte many years ago when his office was located in the building next door. Owner Steve Black (an original Hotel Charlotte employee who bought the business from Royer a few years before he passed away) apparently never forgets a face, or customer, and they were reminiscing about old times. Later outside, Darrell also admitted to eating the sweet tomato jelly — with a spoon.

Hotel Charlotte is located in that nameless “been there forever” small strip shopping center on South Sharon Amity Road, near the intersection of Providence Road. They prefer not to take reservations, and it’s roomy enough inside and on the patio that you don’t really need one anyway. If there is a slight wait, just belly up to the neighborhood bar, maybe start your beer club membership . . . and say hello to Sam.

Bruce and Jill Hensley are partners in the firm Hensley/Fontana. They launched the first Charlotte Restaurant Week, which runs through July 18. They're dining out each night and will be blogging about their experiences for Charlottemagazine.com. Read past entries here.