The Penguin, a landmark restaurant in the Plaza-Midwood Neighborhood of Charlotte, has made quite a name for itself, even appearing on The Food Network’s “Diners, Drive ins, and Dives” and The Travel Channel’s “Man vs Food”. In recent years, the talk locally has been not about the food, but about the weird drama that’s occurred between the owners and the former management. I don’t know all the sordid details but I do know that the management got kicked out and opened the Diamond just next door and the owners of The Penguin have been accused of selling out and trying to franchise.
Many lament that the quality of food at The Penguin has deteriorated. Open since 1954, The Penguin has been known for their fried pickle chips, juicy burgers, and grilled hot dogs. The inside of the restaurant is definitely dive-like. It’s fairly dark with a juke box at the back and booths along one side and a few stools along a counter facing the kitchen.
We made a recent trip to The Penguin and I’ll have to say that gripes about the food are spot on. The chili cheese fries were a huge disappointment and so unappetizing to look at, I didn’t take a picture. Chase had The Billy Goat ($8.99 for a combo) which is a burger topped with bacon, pimento cheese, onion rings, slaw, tomato, and famous Penguin sauce. He also had a side of onion rings. I didn’t think that onion rings could be completely flavorless, but apparently they can.
Madison had the fried Mac and Cheese balls coated with Panko Crumbs ($5.99) and she seemed to enjoy them. But then again she enjoys anything that involves mac and cheese or fingers of the chicken (as my husband calls them).
I ordered the Penguin Combo ($8.49) a burger topped with pimento cheese, fried pickles, lettuce, and mayo and I found it to be just an average burger. It lacked flavor, could have used more fried pickles and the taste of the pimento cheese wasn’t substantial enough. It kind of blended in with the taste of the mayo.
Unfortunately I think The Penguin’s television fame keeps a steady stream of customers coming through the door, leaving them little incentive to go back to what made them famous in the first place – really good food in a super cool environment.
It’s still probably worth a trip to this restaurant that’s been such a big part of Plaza-Midwood for so many years. Stop by The Diamond after and see who you think is putting out better food. My vote is with The Diamond.
1921 Commonwealth Ave
Charlotte, NC 28205