Charlies Restaurant and Taverna in Maumee wants to be more than a greasy spoon.
Ostensibly, it’s mid-scale taverna with a robust Greek and Mediterranean menu, an elegant outdoor patio, and a full bar. But at its heart, it’s really a Coney Island-style diner serving chili-smothered hot dogs, burgers, and fries — complete with a drive-thru. It’s a place where a New York Strip dinner comes with a side of chili mac, where you can sip wine in the afternoon breeze while downing a dog and fries.
★ ★ ½
Address: 1631 Tollgate Drive, Maumee
Hours: 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily.
Wheelchair access: Yes.
Average price: $$
Credit cards: AE, D, MC, V.
The newest in a family- owned chain that got its start in the early 1970s in Toledo, the Maumee store certainly offers a lot. In addition to its amenities, it has a huge, reasonably priced menu, including all-day breakfast; a clean, modern-looking dining room, and an inviting if somewhat incoherent atmosphere. But in our experiences, it also left a few things to be desired.
On multiple visits, the service was uneven. On our first visit, we alternately felt abandoned and then rushed after stopping for a late dinner. Our sever was certainly working hard, juggling multiple tables and various other responsibilities, but as the harried service dragged out the meal and closing time edged nearer, the staff seemed ready for us to leave. On a second visit, we sat for a good while before anyone greeted us or offered to take a drink order, although our eventual server was friendly and patient in answering our questions about the diverse food lineup.
The food we sampled was similarly uneven, with some standout dishes tempered by some real duds. Charlies’ menu derives from its Coney Island roots, with a mixture of homemade Greek offerings and diner staples. As such, its best dishes are its most simple and traditional.
The natural casing Coney Island Dog ($2.59, plus $0.39 for cheese), slathered with grated cheddar, onions, and chili sauce, was tasty and satisfying for the price, although the dog itself was served a bit lukewarm. The same cheese and chili sauce covered the Charlie Mac ($5.49), touted on the menu as “The dish that made us famous!” Ours came as a side to the aforementioned New York Strip steak ($12.89), and the pasta dish easily out-shined the dry, overcooked, overly bland piece of meat we were served.
The Charlies Gyro Sandwich ($5.79), fared a little better, with thick slices of lamb and a zesty homemade sauce, but easily the most satisfying dishes we tried were the humongous salads. The Cranberry Walnut Chicken Salad ($9.29) was piled high with toppings on a bed of fresh greens with a sweet and tangy dressing, juicy slices of grilled chicken, and pita chips. The Greek Salad ($5.69 for a small) was similarly generously portioned, fresh, and covered with crumbled feta cheese.
Charlies also has a large selection of Mediterranean dishes. On our server’s recommendation, we tried Charlies Specialty Plate ($11.49), a sampling of grilled chicken, gyro meat, grape leaves, and hummus. The portions were immense — easily enough for two — and the food itself was good but unspectacular. The chicken was well-cooked and flavorful, and the grape leaves — really more like miniature cabbage rolls — were meaty, with an authentic homemade feel, but the hummus was too thin for our liking, and the portions were out of balance. After quickly burning through the provided pita slices, we were left with a large pile of unadorned meats.
For appetizers, we sampled the Saganaki Opa! ($7.99), a traditional Greek fried cheese. Emerging from the kitchen with the flaming dish in hand, the cook let loose a half-hearted “Opa!” as he presented it. But for all the fanfare, the cheese itself was unremarkable in a thin puddle of watery grease. Meanwhile, the Avgolemono ($2.49/cup), a Greek soup of chicken broth, egg, and lemon, was warm and creamy with a rich lemony flavor.
Our desserts included a slice of Oreo Cream Pie ($2.69) and a dish of Rice Pudding ($2.79), and both were sweet and satisfying. Other notable desserts include Greek Yogurt ($4.89) and Baklava Delight ($4.89).
We were only able to sample a small selection of the restaurant’s many offerings. The store also features a full lineup of burgers, traditional dishes like Spanakopita (spinach pie), seafood, pizza, and daily half-off breakfast specials.
Ultimately, Charlies offers great variety and generous portions, marred, in our experience, by spotty quality and service. Anyone wanting a good value, diner-style meal, or quick lunch will likely leave satisfied. But those hoping for a little more from their night out might be better served looking elsewhere.
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