I have many fond memories of the food scene growing up in Charleston. While I love the current farm-to-table/organic movement, nothing says comfort food to me like memories of childhood treats.
When I was growing up, my parents really enjoyed cooking — which meant we didn’t eat out too often. When we did decide to go to a restaurant, it was always extra special.
My earliest and best food memories are of the Sterling Restaurant. It was my dad’s favorite restaurant and mine as well. I can almost conjure up the smell and taste of the Grecian bread and have never had any that comes close to that standard since. And their onion rings … whole onions, sliced and hand-breaded, brought hot to the table. I never ate salad as a kid, unless it was at the Sterling. Their homemade French dressing with blue cheese crumbles was the perfect sweet and sour combo, even for my young palette.
Hot dogs were my mom’s favorite and we loved going to the A & W drive-in on the West Side near Five Corners. We loved their hotdogs with chili and their fried bologna sandwiches. All brought to the car by servers on roller skates who did skating tricks, providing dinner and a show for us.
A family restaurant favorite for after church was Bowincals on the East End, which had fabulous hot dogs as well. The recipe [below] for hotdogs with nitrate-free wieners still gives me all the childhood feels, with an unexpected bruschetta topping instead of chili.
The old Pizza Hut in Kanawha City, the one which used to be halfway down MacCorkle Avenue and closer to Horace Mann Middle School than the current location, was a big part of a kid’s life in the 1980s. The Personal Pan Pizza was a huge treat.
I remember in school having to read 20 books to get a certificate for a free Personal Pan Pizza. Although I never needed motivation to read, that reward caused many of my classmates to open books in hopes of obtaining that sought-after prize. After school dances were over, most of the kids would go to Pizza Hut and it would be so crowded you could barely move once inside.
During the early days of Covid, yeast was hard to find, and I decided to use naan bread to make individual pizzas. Adding a twist to these pizzas, with toppings like grapes, gorgonzola cheese or barbecue chicken, turns them into a “grown up” version. They’re also a great go-to, easy dinner when I need to whip up something quickly. The small individual size reminds me of Personal Pan Pizzas, thus the name, “Personal Naan Pizzas.”
And we can’t forget mall food. I couldn’t take a trip there without having an Orange Julius. If I remember correctly, I think the Huntington Mall had one before we got one in Charleston. And I remember the candy store named Heaven that had unusual and delicious candy that stretched all the way up their gargantuan wall like you were looking up to… you guessed it … heaven.
I’ve played around with Orange Julius recipes for years. Most call for ingredients that aren’t necessarily clean or healthy. This recipe hits the mark on healthy and reminds me of the flavor I miss. Adding vodka makes a quick cocktail out of this classic childhood treat.
There is nothing like making food that reminds you of your childhood. And if anyone wants to email me their recipe for the Sterling’s Grecian bread or onion rings, you’ll make my day. Or maybe my week…