Nostalgia on the Menu at Historic N.C. Restaurants
Tucked within unassuming structures, greasy spoon restaurants aren’t flashy or on trend in their décor. But what they may lack in sophistication, they make up, most assuredly, with their charm.
Three of these North Carolina institutions, a small selection of the many worthy restaurants from the mountains to the coast, have each been around for more than 50 years. Attracting both old-timers and newcomers alike, these restaurants have the ability to fill hungry bellies and evoke memories of simpler times. After just one bite, customers will take a journey back to yesteryear, when beer cost less than a dollar and a pound of bacon could be bought with pocket change.
Dick’s Hot Dog Stand
Located just off Interstate 95 in Wilson, Dick’s Hotdog Stand is the place to grab a hot dog – and has been for 93 years.
In 1921, Greek immigrant Socrates “Dick” Gliarmis founded the restaurant after returning from World War I. It quickly became known for its fantastic hot dogs and homemade chili topping, finished off with mustard and freshly chopped onions.
Today, Gliarmis’ son, Lee, operates the eatery at 86 years of age. Still heavily involved in the daily operations, Gliarmis makes the family-honed chili every day, preps lunch and works a bit during the noontime rush.
So, what is Dick’s Hotdog Stand’s secret to success?
“We’ve always made our own chili, homemade chili. We still do,” Gliarmis explains. “We always try to get a good wiener. Rather than a cheap one, we get an expensive one. Then, with the chili, it makes a great hot dog.”
It isn’t just the food that keeps Dick’s standing; it’s also the people – generations who continue to pass through the glass door. “Our business is made of the people who stuck with us,” Gilarmis says. “The children and the grandchildren continue to come out here. The way it continues to grow and stay successful means a lot after 93 years.”
Know Before You Go
Sam and Omie’s Restaurant
In 1937, a local commercial fisherman captain named Sambo Tillet founded this Nags Head institution, originally his namesake, for fisherman to fuel up before a day on the water.
“Sam started serving breakfast, and it sort of evolved from there,” says current owner Carole Sykes.
Sambo renamed the restaurant in 1950 to include his son, Omie, and it changed hands a few times before Sykes took over in 2002. Today, the eatery is still fit for fishermen, with its intentionally downscale ambiance and authentic seaside feel. But many families now consider it a Nags Head tradition.
“I’ve seen kids grow up coming in here, and now their kids are coming in,” says Sykes, who started there as a server in 1983.
Sam and Omie’s, located almost directly across from Jennette’s Pier, serves breakfast, lunch and dinner from mid-March until it closes for the winter in December after the holidays. During peak season (mid-May through mid-October), breakfast alone draws 400 people a day to the 80-seat restaurant. Of course, the main attraction is the seafood.
“We try to serve as much fresh North Carolina seafood as possible,” Sykes says. “We get scallops right off the boat … and fish, shrimp, as fresh as it can be. The fishermen are still good to us.”
The “not too heavily battered” fried seafood gets rave reviews, and all soups and salads are made from scratch daily, as are the cocktail and tartar sauces. “That’s another thing that brings people back here year after year,” Sykes says.
And that’s not just tourists returning – Omie himself still comes in for breakfast a couple of days a week. His granddaughter is one of the restaurant’s managers, carrying on the tradition started by her great-grandfather Sambo more than 75 years ago.
– Christina Vinson