Charlie’s Sandwich Shoppe is my go-to breakfast place in Boston. Although my first visit was 10 years ago, I’ve only been a regular for the last three (if visiting at least once during my annual trip to Boston makes me a regular that is!). It’s the quintessential family-run American diner, having been in the Manjourides family since it opened 86 years ago. It’s so much a fixture of the South End neighbourhood that it’s even got its own Wikipedia page!
To the detriment of my waist-line, I’ve always been a fan of American breakfasts: fluffy, buttermilk griddle cakes, smothered in maple syrup; a plate full of eggs, fried potatoes with a couple of slices of toast; there are reasons why I put on half a stone whenever I go to America.
Charlie’s supplies these in abundance, along with bags of friendly atmosphere. It’s best experienced sitting on a bar-stool at the counter with a mug of coffee and enough food to last you for the day. There you can watch the regulars come and go, read the Boston Globe, or, increasingly these days, browse your smartphone or tablet. Not that Charlie’s has succumbed to the lure of wifi just yet…
February 2016: I’ve updated my piece on the original Charlie’s Sandwich Shoppe following a change of ownership & refursbishment.This is the original write-up, published in July 2013. For an up-to-date description, please see the updated entry, while you can see what’s changed in my Coffee Spot Update.
You can read more of my thoughts after the gallery.
I first came across Charlie’s Sandwich Shoppe 10 years ago. It had had a great write-up in the Lonely Planet, but back then, I didn’t have the same appreciation of American Diners that I do now. So, frankly, I was slightly disappointed: no restrooms, cash only, very old fashioned. Never fear though, Charlie’s soon won me over.
I’ve wanted to write about Charlie’s even before I started the Coffee Spot, but the draw here really is the breakfast rather than the coffee and I never felt entirely comfortable putting it in as a Coffee Spot. However, as a Saturday Supplement, Charlie’s is a perfect fit. Indeed, it was one of the main motivations behind starting the Supplement in the first place!
Charlie’s has been on the same spot on Columbus Avenue since 1927, serving good, old-fashioned diner food, and mountains of it, to the folks of the South End. And the occasional tourist such as myself. Now it’s my default breakfast spot when in Boston, save for the occasional trip to the South End Buttery when I need a break!
Charlie’s is very much a family business. Chris, his brother Arthur, and two sisters, Fontaine and Marie, now run Charlie’s, having taken it on from their father, who set up the business in 1927 in partnership with Charlie, after whom it’s named. Charlie would probably still recognise the place, since the floor is original, and many of the fixtures and fittings haven’t changed much over the years. My favourite is the ice-box, a wooden affair at the far end of the counter with glass doors and brass hinges and fittings. Installed in 1927, when Charlie’s opened, it’s still being used today.
I love everything about Charlie’s, starting with the counter running down the left hand side. My favourite spot is perched on one of the red-topped bar stools which date back to the 1930s, preferably at the far end by the ice-box where I can survey the whole place over my breakfast. If you are lucky, you can sit and watch Chris working on the griddle, making one of Charlie’s famous griddle cakes.
I’ve only ever been in for breakfast. My usual favourite is two eggs, poached, on wheat toast with home fries and a single griddle cake on the side. The griddle cake, for the uninitiated, is a pancake, but made on a griddle, not a pan (although there’s plenty of pancakes made on griddles these days, so let’s not get hung up on nomenclature). The extra griddle cake is overkill, of course, but they’re so good, light and fluffy, that I really couldn’t go there and not have one. The alternative is to have a stack of three, and skip the eggs, but these days I don’t think my system could take it…
The other great thing about Charlie’s is the atmosphere, especially if you’re sitting at the bar, where the wait-staff and Chris, if he’s not busy frying eggs or making griddle cakes, will chat with the regulars. I was lucky to meet both Chris and Marie and spend a while chatting with them about the history of Charlie’s.
If you want a slightly quieter life, then pick one of the four tables opposite the counter, but really, the counter is the place to be.
|429 COLUMBUS AVE • BOSTON • MA 02116 • USA|
|+1 617 536 7669|
|Monday||07:00 – 15.00||Roaster||N/A|
|Tuesday||07:00 – 15.00||Seating||Counter, Tables|
|Wednesday||07:00 – 15.00||Food||Breakfast, Lunch|
|Thursday||07:00 – 15.00||Service||Table|
|Friday||07:00 – 15.00||Cards||Cash Only|
|Saturday||07:00 – 15.00||Wifi||No|
|Sunday||07:00 – 15.00||Power||No|
|Chain||No||Visits||Original: 26th, 28th February 2013|
|Update: 23rd February 2016|