Charlie’s Sandwich Shoppe in the South End has none of the Old English charm you might expect from the spelling of its name. Nonetheless, the small half-coffee-shop, half-diner, which has been a neighborhood institution since it opened in 1927, is brimming with character.
Old-school vinyl stools line a Formica countertop cluttered with napkin dispensers, bowls of assorted jellies, salt-and-pepper shakers, ketchup, sugar canisters, and creamers. Photographs of past and present customers — some famous, some not — constitute ad hoc wallpaper. Randomly arranged tables fill in the rest of the space, and if you’re only two at a five-person table, be prepared to share. It’s just how they do it here.
A 1950s menu board with removable letters runs along the length of the wall above the counter, identifying diner-staple sandwiches such as the Dagwood-proportioned turkey club ($6.95), tuna melt ($4.55), grilled Reuben ($7.30), and meat loaf ($5.55). All can be served with a generous portion of thick, golden, salty fries for $2.15 extra.
Charlie’s Sandwich Shoppe, however, is a bit of a misnomer, as it’s best known for its breakfast, which is served all day long (or at least until 2:30 p.m., when the restaurant closes). Pancakes are called griddlecakes ("No pans used here," the take-out menu boasts) and come with a variety of delicious fillings. Banana and pecan ($7.50) and raspberry ($7.50) are sublimely decadent, and the chocolate-chip version ($6.35) is perfect if you’re in the mood for a treat. Other breakfast favorites — such as eggs, home fries, and toast ($4.95) — are available, as are huge, fluffy, perfectly cooked omelets; try the spinach and feta ($7.95) for Mediterranean flair, or sample the ham and cheese ($7.65), a better-than-home-cooked favorite. The turkey hash with eggs and toast ($7.15) is labeled "award-winning," and was described by a stunned customer as "just awesome."
With its diner food and décor, Charlie’s is a bit Back to the Future, but there’s nothing wrong with that. The food is delicious, the service is fast and friendly, and there’s not a frill to be found in the small restaurant. In fact, the only complaint one can make about Charlie’s is that it’s closed on Sunday, the best day of all to go out for breakfast.
Charlie’s Sandwich Shoppe, located at 429 Columbus Avenue, in Boston, is open Monday through Friday, from 6 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., and on Saturday, from 7:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Call (617) 536-7669.