Venue Review: Big View Diner
The Charlotte Observer
16637 Lancaster Highway
The Big View Diner is a big idea, executed with sizable ambition, in a locale that's trying to catch up with its own growth - and it's a tough time to be doing that.
The idea: a chef's-palate take on classic diner food in all its diversity, served in a slick but retro atmosphere and with at-least-somewhat retro pricing.
And it comes close on lots of the many levels it's got going on.
Servers bustle, collaborate, coach you on choices, call you "sweetheart" and "baby" (at least my favorite one does), and get your drinks fast and keep them topped off.
It's a little noisy when busy, but seating is sufficiently spaced that it's not a problem once you're seated.
And it has the best burger-and-dessert combo I've ever put together: The Big View Cheeseburger "Deluxe" and a fat wedge of chocolate silk pie. Fantastic.
But there are some food problems standing between Big View and the sort of all-hour, all-customer support it needs.
On my visits, dishes tended to come out slowly, even on a not-busy night. Preparations were generally underseasoned (which may be intentional), and often came out cool (which surely isn't). The result is an overall watered-down feeling.
Since Big View is the venture of the folks who brought Charlotte the vibrant ilios noche and Nolen Kitchen, I think they'll figure this out. Co-owner Stratos Lambos said he and Angelo Kaltsounis have been working harder than they ever have, and unpredictable business has been more challenging than expected.
Noteworthy: Oven-roasted turkey slices that get you eager for Thanksgiving. Slow-roasted beef brisket with good texture, though the broccoli, carrots and green beans with it were chilly and bland. Full-of-chicken noodle soup. Generous salads with good croutons. Little sliced loaves of light, faintly sweet cornbread. Housemade potato chips - big browned crunchy slices with Maytag blue cheese sauce. A special of Greek chicken with lemony potato wedges and a bright sauce tinged with oregano.
Unsuccessful: Flash-fried calamari that was bready and dull, with too little of a Thai chili lime glaze. A grilled cheese BLT club with little flavor and no crunch. Painfully bland marinara over too-cooked spaghetti, though the three golf-ball-sized meatballs fared better.
Frank Kaltsounis's desserts vary in success. That silk pie was flawless, while a lemon meringue pie - actually a little tart - was stale and gummy. The cookies are gigantic (and should be for $1.99); the milkshakes are smallish for $4.99 but done with housemade ice creams and worth the price. (There are also house combo shakes, such as toasted coconut, apple pie and peanut butter banana.)
Spend a few minutes browsing the glass cases before you sit down, since you'll want to have an idea about dessert when ordering the rest of your meal. Labels on selections in the case would be immensely helpful.
The place - at Ardrey Kell and Johnston Road, south of Ballantyne - is gorgeous, its palette of deep red and brown and gold repeated in elaborately tiled floors, roomy booths, interestingly finished walls and menus and signage. It's spacious, too, and thankfully sports some extra-wide aisles, the better to accommodate running kids and those bustling servers.
Big View gets the vista right. Now it needs to zero in on the food.