First Bite is a look at a restaurant that’s opened recently, based on one visit, not a full-fledged review.
The food: Burgers? Check. Fried pickles? Check. Dogs? Check. Big metal letters spelling out “BARBECUE” on the wall? Check. Newly added “TM” after the name? Check. On a visit this week, the new Penguin felt both simplified and complicated: The juke was silent and a lunchtime crowd sported no visible tats or piercings, though a party with seven small children swarmed in without a hitch and a couple of older gents tucked into burgers at the bar. The sporty, laminated menu has a whole “BIG CHOPPED SALADS” category now, sandwiches include barbecue, grilled pimento cheese, chicken tenders and a whole lot of burgers. Those start at 1/3 pound for $3.75 and are moist (pimento cheese on the eponymous burger helped), while fried items were … meh: Really salty, oily fried pickles, for example, with bits of fries in the cardboard basket. Sweet potato fries fared better: square-cut, not greasy, with nicely soft interior, though no dipping sauce. Drinks come in Penguin plastic cups you can keep, and if you buy a Penguin T-shirt ($12), you can wear it in to the restaurant anytime in 2011, buy an entrée, and get a free small order of pickles.
The look: Big Game Brands, whose press says it hopes to “expand the Penguin Drive-In’s brand throughout the U.S.,” has used lots of photos from the era of original owner Jim Ballentine in the décor, along with press clippings. Black and red checked floors, wood paneling, black booths, red tables and some shine on red-and-white chairs give it a same-but-spruced look.
The service: Mine smiled, was quick and fresh-faced, and knew the menu; they’re clad in Penguin Ts and pants or jeans.
Details: 11 a.m. to 1 a.m. Monday-Thursday, to 2 a.m. Friday-Sunday; 1921 Commonwealth Ave.; 704-375-1925; www.penguinrestaurant.com.
Wednesday, January 19, 2011
Posted by Helen Schwab at 4:31 PM