Charlotte’s classic dishes
As new restaurants open every day in Charlotte, it’s easy to forget the old hangouts, the places that grew up alongside the Queen City. Our Charlotte’s Classic Eats series shines a light on the places you’ve visited for years, reminding us why they’ve stood the test of time.
“What can I say about a restaurant that so many people have written about? I thought as I drove over to Lupie’s Cafe to meet my stepfather for lunch. Others told the story of founder Lupie Duran who learned to cook at a young age and shared her recipes with Charlotte. Ohio transplants know it’s home to some of Charlotte’s best Cincinnati-style chillies. And let’s not forget the Three once a vehicle wrecked on the side of the building.
“Well,” I thought as I walked through the front door that rainy afternoon, my attention happily turning to what to order. The dish of the day – chicken and dumplings – seemed to do the trick. Accompanied by cornbread, macaroni and cheese and coleslaw, the hearty portion hit the spot on this brooding day.
“My mother worked in the kitchens, learned to cook and with the encouragement of a few friends, opened her own restaurant in 1987,” restaurant manager Larkin Duran (Lupie’s daughter) told CharlotteFive. “She instilled an instinct (in me) for cooking when I was young – it must be something inside of you,” Duran said.
Lupie’s Cafe has been a staple for over 30 years. Located on the corner of Chantilly, Elizabeth and Grier Heights, it has long appealed to a wide range of regulars and newcomers. “Mom has created a welcoming environment – all kinds of people eat here,” said Duran. “From businessmen to construction workers, to the tattooed and those in suits and ties, we serve them all. “
Not much has changed on the cafe’s menu since its inception – and for decades not much has changed in the way most dishes are prepared. Archie Pone has been a cook at the restaurant for 23 years. “We mainly sell home-cooked meals – chicken and dumplings, meatloaf, four different kinds of chili – whatever people want,” Pone said. “This is why we are so successful,” he added.
“Mom taught me how to cook – not by holding my hand – but letting me screw it all up enough times until I was successful,” said Duran. The restaurant offers daily specials from Monday to Saturday, including meatloaf, fettuccine alfredo, casserole chicken, spaghetti, baked chicken, chicken and dumplings, roast pork and quiches. With two sides and some bread, these $ 7.95 plates are hard value to beat. “Perhaps the most popular dish is our chicken casserole; we sell every Tuesday, ”said Duran. And for cost-conscious diners, a cold Pabst Blue Ribbon always costs $ 1.
Lupie is now semi-retired but still makes cookies, cakes and quiches. In addition to his cooking skills, his business acumen contributed in large part to the restaurant’s success. “The pandemic has been devastating for all restaurants,” said Duran. “This mom bought the building so many years ago – it has helped us through the pandemic tremendously.”
Returns to the people
Like so many restaurants in our Charlotte’s Classic Eats series, I felt a theme speak to the folks at Lupie’s – the importance of people. That a restaurant has a handful of employees over 20 says a lot about its culture. Larkin Duran, who has been around the restaurant all his life, has had its ups and downs at the restaurant. “I saw two of my best friends get engaged here, I came here when the school opened on September 11th, saw so much going on here,” she told CharlotteFive.
Others have spent countless hours at Lupie’s Cafe, both customers and employees. In the lower dining room is a wall of framed portraits in black and white. The photos, taken by the photographer Byron baldwin, capture the personalities of former employees. Baldwin’s black-and-white photographs of Charlotte’s landmarks also dot the walls of the restaurant.
However, many landmarks are now closed. “This is what I’m going to write,” I said to myself. Lupia might not be trendy or shiny, but it doesn’t have to be. Serve great food and treat people right – and 34 years later, you’ll have a line every afternoon.
Neighborhood: Chantilly / Elizabeth / Grier Heights
Cuisine: Southern, Comfort Food
Hours: Monday to Friday, 11 am to 9 pm; Saturday, 12 p.m. to 9 p.m.
To order: dine on site or call 704-371-1232 to take out