Mick's Picks: To honor the birthday of our glorious republic, we decided to feature one of the Queen City's finest examples of quintessential American cuisine. Since 1975, Zack's Hamburgers has been serving their signature burgers, Carolina-style hot dogs, homemade onion rings, fries and fried fish to Charlotteans in South End long before it was even called South End.
As a teenager, I used to swing by Zack's on my way to punk rock and reggae shows at Tremont Music Hall. Nothing seems to have changed at this icon off Scaleybark since the late 90's and that's a good thing.
When I walked in at noon on the Friday before the long Fourth of July weekend, at least ten people waited ahead of me in line. One friendly old timer was mingling with strangers as we like to do here in the South. I watched him nod at the growing line and say to nobody in particular, "You know you got a winner when you got people lined up to pay you." I couldn't have said it better myself.
There is limited seating inside. Only a couple tables and counter top seats that I reckon many of the adult patrons probably sat on as children. The red acrylic benches and stools look unchanged and the yellow and red color scheme and Mid Century modern architecture is the same I recall from childhood. "Best of" superlatives plaster the area around the counter. Even though it was a typical humid Carolina summer day, I sat at one of the concrete patio tables in the shade of the Coke umbrellas.
Although Americans didn't invent the hot dog, hamburger and french fries, we damn sure perfected them into an art form scrutinized and beloved by both foodies and everyday folk. For about $6.50, Zack's prepared me a feast that would have had my physician lecturing me on moderation. The cheeseburger comes on a sesame seed bun with a tender, modest-sized beef patty smothered with melted American cheese. Topped with pickles, chopped onions, yellow mustard and ketchup, it was only missing a juicy slice of tomato and leaf of crisp lettuce. I love hot dogs and Zack's serves them right. The hot dogs are all beef and Carolina-style with tangy cole slaw that goes easy on the mayo, finely-minced chili and yellow mustard. My golden fries came out of the bag hot and crispy on the outside and tender on the inside, without overdoing the salt, which is about all you can ask for with deep-fried potatoes.
Lasting over thirty-five years in any business is a reason for pride. Lasting thirty-five years in a city like Charlotte- which as a metropolis and emerging culinary scene is vastly different than the quaint Queen City of the 70's, well, that makes you a landmark. You want to know how this place has served at least five recessions? The answer is simple. Cheap food that tastes great and gets served with old school consistency.
God Bless America and have a safe and happy Fourth of July.
Please drop us a line in the comments section if you love Zack's or have any other tips on great slices of Americana here in the Queen City.
See what the Yelpers say.