Dinos in Charlotte?! (left); Pinky's menu
(top right); my brothers kept each other
entertained during our wait (bottom right)
This past Sunday, two of my brothers and I took my mom and dad to lunch to celebrate Father's Day. We intended to check out another restaurant, but after discovering that it was closed on Sundays, we ended up at Pinky's Westside Grill. Although the restaurant first opened its doors in November of 2010, it had a cult following before they even served their first meal. When you pull up (and most likely have to park across the street because there are only a few spots in front of the restaurant), the first thing you'll probably notice is either the American-flag painted VW Beetle perched on the roof or the big tri-sarah-tops (I'll spell it how I want...) sculpture chilling in a patch of palm trees near the patio seating. The eclectic decor isn't limited to the outdoors -the entire restaurant is filled with interesting pop culture-themed artwork, signs, and even a few arcade games.
|fried pickles, battered and well-cooked (top); crab puppies|
(bottom right); crab puppy close-up (bottom left)
Getting down to the food, Pinky's had five serious eaters on their hands, so I knew I would have some good material to blog about. We started out with a large order of Greg's Pickles (are you sensing a theme here?) and an order of the Crab Puppies. Everything came out quickly and was still piping hot out of the fryer when it reached the table. Despite the warning from the server to "wait a little bit or you'll burn your mouth," we dug right in... and all burned our mouths. The 13 Crab Puppies were firm, golden brown, 1.5 inch-ish balls of a cornmeal/flour mixture filled with shreds of crabmeat. The hushpuppy taste outweighed the crab taste, but the combo was absolutely delicious. The accompanying tartar sauce was thick and tasted faintly like lemons and pickles (in a good way). Although the pups were tasty on their own, the cool, creamy tartar sauce provided some delightful contrast to the firm, crispy crab puppy. Greg's Pickles were also very good. They were served with a good, thin ranch dressing but we also dipped them in the spicy ranch dressing that our server had delivered to go with our upcoming entrees. The pickles looked and tasted like they were dipped in a batter, rather than coated with a breading. I'm still on the fence regarding which method I prefer, but whatever Pinky's did was a good call. The exterior of the chips was peppery and a little spicy, which was a nice surprise. Unlike some pickles I've previously blogged about, they were perfectly fried, just like their Crab Puppy compadres. Crispy on the outside, the pickles themselves still had a little crunch when I bit into them. This is crucial -biting into the pickle often rips off the entire coating and leaves you with a warm glob of pickle. These guys, however, stayed intact and delicious even after undergoing a bite test. I think the Joe Hooper's pickles are going to remain at the top of my mental "best fried pickle in Charlotte" list, but these presented some stiff competition.
|White Trash Burger (top left); Buffalo Shrimp Tacos (top|
right); cole slaw (middle right); Corn Dog Shrimp (bottom
right); Ding Dong Chicken Sandwich (bottom left)
About ten or fifteen minutes after demolishing the pickles and puppies, our entrees arrived. The wait time seemed a little long, but the restaurant was crowded and we were a relatively large table, so I won't fault Pinky's too much. My dad ordered the Ding Dong Chicken Sandwich, described on the menu as a "thai inspired grilled marinated chicken breast served on a bun with crunchy peanut butter, sriracha hot sauce and honey-cilantro slaw." I had a quick taste and my dad (who is quite a foodie) described the flavor as "good, maybe a bit heavy on the peanut" with a good amount of Sriracha that was spicy without being overwhelming. Both my dad and I felt that the slaw on top, while a little bland, still was a nice, crunchy complement to the spicy, nutty chicken. However, eating the actual sandwich was a logistical nightmare. While my dad felt that the two grilled tenders making up the base were an appropriate portion size, the "pillow soft bun" was not substantial enough to keep the saucy, slaw-covered sandwich under control. The bun essentially disintegrated and my dad was left with a big, albeit tasty, mess.
My older brother is a consistent fish taco-orderer and unsurprisingly, he went with the Buffalo Shrimp Tacos. Described as "flour tortillas topped with lightly breaded fried Buffalo shrimp with arugula & gorgonzola crumbles, served with a side of black beans," they were very good, but I wonder if grilling, rather than frying, the shrimp would have made for a lighter meal. In general, I'm a "hotter is better" girl, so I was glad that when I tasted a taco, I actually detected some heat from the Buffalo sauce. Given the choice to get either two or three tacos, big bro went with three but quickly got full and he ended up boxing one.
My younger brother, a consistent red meat-orderer, opted for the White Trash Burger, which is described as a "juicy five-ounce burger with provolone, fried pickles & onion rings and spicy ranch sauce." The burger was indeed juicy, but it might just have been from all the super-fat ingredients piled on top of the patty. I might be excommunicated from the city for saying this, but I wasn't a huge fan of the Pinky's burger patty. To me it seemed overcooked, bland, and without the toppings, I would describe it as dry. However, I was a big fan of the cheese selection Pinky's made with this burger. Had it been a build-your-own-burger situation, I doubt I would ever pick provolone, which I generally think of as a pretty lame cheese. Maybe it's the relatively high sodium content that Provolone's usually have, but it went perfectly (and melted beautifully) with the fried pickles and onion rings. Although I'm not sold on Pinky's burgers yet, this was a solid choice and I could easily be coaxed into giving it another try. Little bro, who at the ripe age of 21 already has heartburn issues (a complete surprise considering how this family eats...), was glad that the burger was served a la carte. I don't think he could have eaten another bite so the lack of sides was appreciated.
Both my mom and I ordered the Shrimp Corn Dogs which consisted of "eight large shrimp dipped in corn dog batter & deep fried – served with waffle fries, southern slaw and your choice of dipping sauce." The slaw was very similar to the slaw served on top of my dad's sandwich. While it was good, it wasn't anything to write home about. I kind of feel like Pinky's only makes slaw because they feel like they have to. With all the fried stuff we had ordered, though, the slaw was a welcome change even though it was relatively flavorless. The fries, while crispy and well-fried, were also not anything special. In general, I like a waffle fry because each little cutout provides extra surface area on which golden, fried crunchiness can develop. The fries were underseasoned, but that was not a problem a few sprinkles of salt and pepper couldn't fix. I also didn't really have much room left to eat the fries because I was so fixated on the giant shrimp corn dogs. While they were served with your choice of dipping sauce (both my mom and I opted for the Sriracha-tasting spicy ranch), I felt like they were best accompanied by the tartar sauce that came with our Crab Puppies. My review might be biased because I loveeeee corn dogs, but I thought the batter was delicious. However, there was just too much of it -the shrimp to batter ratio was definitely off. Each shrimp was drowning in batter. My first giant bite of corn dog left me with a mouthful of bread -as I said, the bread was tasty but the lack of shrimp was surprising. My next bite found the shrimp, which was cooked to the point that it was a little tough. All in all, the Shrimp Corn Dogs were decent, but I doubt I'd order them again. My mom said she liked hers, but like everybody else she was pretty full at this point and left a lot of them uneaten. If you're craving a cornmeal-y taste, the Crab Puppies will probably be your better bet.
In sum, everybody left Pinky's very full and very happy. It was a great, lazy meal to share with my family (or at least a majority of them) on my dad's special day. I'll give Pinky's a solid 8/10.