South 21's Curb Service is Charlotte's classic drive-in restaurant. When it first opened in 1955, Charlotte and the rest of the nation had become taken with the idea of the car and fast food. Family-owned South 21 is an endangered species, a fast food joint with an order speaker at every car dock. Once a month classic car owners meet here. If you drive a 21st Century giant battleship-size truck or SUV, the movable tray will be significantly lower than your window, but this place is fun nevertheless.
South 21 has a worn look and could stand to be brightened up, although the curbside sign is a local treasure. If surprise isn't a dining imperative for you and you yearn for the pre-Homeland Security Act, actually pre-Cuban Missile Crisis world, this is your spot. Food is walked, not skated, out to the car and the menu is 1950's classic: burgers, hot dogs, pork barbecue, fried fish, French fries, ribeye steak sandwich, and chef salads with packets of crackers. Their "Super Boy" hamburger is a self-proclaimed "A Meal in Itself": two thin beef patties with mustard, lettuce and slices of onions and tomatoes. South 21 is best known for their uncommonly good, piping hot, flaky onion rings.
If you're not in the mood for fried foods, you can pick up sandwiches and salads at the UpperCrust Gourmet & Catering Shoppe. The shop is small, but offers sparkling fresh shrimp and crab salad, albacore tuna salad, pasta primavera salad with jicama, Jamaican jerk chicken breast sandwich with Caribbean sauce, and a chicken salad sandwich with mango chutney and slivered almonds, although daily selections may vary. Their richly flavored pumpkin muffins alone are worthy of a stop.
The shop is owned by Gregory and Sherry Douglas Reid. Some of you may remember Sherry Reid. She had a different name when she opened Passports on the corner of Graham and 9th Streets in Fourth Ward in the early 1990s. That restaurant, which won CL's Best New Restaurant, is long gone and that site has been cleared for condominiums. UpperCrust opened 18 months ago and has an extensive catering menu, including boxed lunches. Catering orders require three business days.
If you're looking for some barbecue (not Carolinian Cue), and don't want to crank up the grill, try Van Loi Chinese and Vietnamese Barbecue on Central Avenue. This take-out only, opened-on-a-shoestring spot in the corner of a strip shopping center, cattycorner from the Saigon Shopping Center, is a favorite among Charlotte's Asian community. Owner Nham Ho opened his store seven years ago and divides his time between this location and his other store with full restaurant in Greensboro.
Many of the dishes, including offal, are unique in their appeal. But barbecue embraces an international community. The small shop, with barbecue ducks, and sometimes pig faces, hanging in the window, has a hand-painted menu in English, Chinese, and Vietnamese, although each menu item is numbered as well. A few items still listed, such as the fried rice, are no longer available. The best of what Van Loi offers are the roasted and barbecue items. Duck, pork, and chicken are sold whole, halved, or by the pound. To order a whole suckling pig, from 100 to 150 pounds, you need to order a week in advance. Whole barbecue ducks are $15 and whole roasted crispy ducks are $14. Barbecue spareribs are $5.25 per pound. Very tender soy sauced chicken is $3.50 per pound. Meat is cut into Asian styled two-inch pieces, not by leg, thigh or breast. To go boxes are available with one ($3.95), two ($4.95) or three ($5.75) items.
One of my favorite summer treats is garden fresh sliced tomatoes and cucumbers bought from a roadside stand or farmers' market, with leaves of basil from my herb garden, and sliced freshly made smooth mozzarella from Pasta and Provisions. In fact, you can get lost in the avalanche of hearty Tuscan flavors at Pasta and Provisions, an ideal place to pick up quick summer meals. The only effort you will need to eat well here is trying to narrow your selection. Bags of mixed salad greens, freshly baked focaccia, grilled vegetables, imported cheeses, sardines, artichoke gorgonzola spread, sun-dried tomato pesto, and pasta salads are ready to go. Fresh pastas, tortellini, gnocchi, ravioli, and frozen lasagna, are offered as well, but will require some heat. Enjoy any of these on your patio or deck and pop open a bottle of a luscious Italian wine, which they also sell. Can life be any cooler?
Have a restaurant tip, compliment, complaint? Do you know of a restaurant that has opened, closed, or should be reviewed? Does your restaurant or shop have news, menu changes, new additions to staff or building, upcoming cuisine or wine events? Fax information to Eaters' Digest: 704-944-3605, or leave voice mail: 704-522-8334, ext. 136. Note: We need events at least 12 days in advance. To contact Tricia via email: TLChild@bellsouth.net.
South 21 Curb Service3621 South Boulevard
Monday: 10:30am until 4pm
Tuesday through Thursday: 10:30am until 9pm
Friday and Saturday: 10:30am until 10pm
A sister location is located at 3101 East Independence Boulevard, 704-377-4509.
UpperCrust Gourmet & Catering Shoppe119 A Huntley Place, next to Thies Realty and Mortgage Company, in Myers Park
Monday through Friday: 10am until 7pm
Saturday: 10am until 5pm
Van Loi, Chinese and Vietnamese Barbecue3101 Central Avenue
Daily: 8am until 8pm
Pasta & ProvisionsIn Myers Park: 1528 Providence Road
In the Arboretum: 8016 Providence Road
Monday through Friday: 10am until 7pm
Saturday: 10am until 6pm
Sunday (Arbo only): 11am until 5pm