I must have passed the unassuming brick building more than a hundred times over the years. After walking into Carolina Family Restaurant recently, I wish I had stopped earlier. The old school, unpretentious vibes hit me immediately, making me feel more like I was in Mayberry than a bustling city grappling with growing pains.
Many Charlotteans, myself included, most frequently pass Carolina Family Restaurant heading down Wilkinson Boulevard to or from Charlotte Douglas International Airport.
“When my dad bought this building in 1976, Wilkinson was a huge thoroughfare,” Maria Kotros, who runs the restaurant, told CharlotteFive. “He heard Harvey Gantt talk about revitalizing the west side and was excited to start a restaurant here.”
The restaurant at 4600 Wilkinson Blvd., wasn’t his first, however. Kotros’ father owned and operated Eat Well Grill on Trade Street in the 1950s and Pete’s Grill on South Boulevard in the 1960s and ’70s.
It was only when Pepsi Bottling Ventures opted not to renew his lease on South Boulevard that he decided to purchase the building on Wilkinson. Kotros said the building where Carolina Family Restaurant stands has been around since the 1930s. When renovating a few years ago, workers discovered a bay window, indicating that it was once a service station.
What to eat
Some of Carolina Family Restaurant’s best sellers include beef tips, country fried steak, hamburgers and Philly sandwiches — but this wasn’t always the plan. “Originally, we served Greek food — authentic, home cooked Greek food,” Kotros said. “But the demand wasn’t there. People wanted meat and three (vegetables).”
There are still hints of the Greek influence, however. Kotros is proud of the restaurant’s salad dressings made in-house, including the Greek dressing that her father agreed to share with her only after his health declined.
Comfort food is in no short supply. When I visited, the daily specials included a big bacon cheeseburger, grilled cheese sandwich and homemade veggie soup, and pork chops with rice and gravy. The breakfast specials are just as hearty, including eggs, bacon, sausage, hotcakes, grits, home fries and shredded hashbrowns.
Everyone that I spoke with mentioned the beef tips, so they’re on my radar to try soon. If you go for lunch, be sure to save room for dessert — ultimate chocolate cake and strawberry swirl cheesecakes were on the menu when I went.
Newcomers and regulars alike have been returning for in-demand American dishes for decades since. The restaurant has also seen its fair share of celebrities over the years. University of Miami women’s basketball coach Katie Meier stopped by a few weeks ago, former Gov. Pat McCrory has dined several times and actor Zach Galifianakis once enjoyed a meal there. (When told he looked like Galifianakis, without revealing his identity, the comedian responded, “I get that a lot.”
Like a big family
Kotros grew up in the restaurant and remembers standing on a milk carton to wash dishes when it was short staffed. Her teenage children now help out on weekends, bringing things full circle. “My dad lived and breathed this restaurant,” Kotros said. “He never took time off. Same for me — it’s lots of work, but I love it.”
The majority of breakfast customers are regulars. Many of them are waiting outside when the doors open at 6 a.m., in large part because of the customer service. “We want to know names and order quirks,” Kotros said. “When you walk in here, you should feel like you’re at home.”
Apparently, it’s working — Kaye Cain was greeted by every hostess in the restaurant as she brought in her great-grandson to pick up a to-go order. “I’ve been a regular since the day they opened,” Cain told CharlotteFive. “It’s like a big family. I tell everyone to come here, and I bring people here. It’s the family and the food for me.”
Neighborhood: West Charlotte/Westerly Hills
Cuisine: American, comfort food
Hours: Monday through Saturday, 6 a.m.-2 p.m.
To order: dine in or call 704-394-9249 for pickup
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