Late humorist Lewis Grizzard knew his restaurants.
Grizzard, who started a folksy southern humor column for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution in the 1970s, had a rating system for mom-and-pops that served great down-home food.
Forget about stars and dollar signs. Grizzard’s classification of one-, two-, and three-knot restaurants really meant something.
In the day before widespread air conditioning, eateries had a screen door held shut by a wire spring. Over time, the spring would loosen and sag, so the owner tightened it by tying a knot in it. The longer a place stayed open, the more knots it had. A “three-knot joint” had survived long enough to have achieved hometown fame.
Tribute to a three-knot joint
The oldest joint in Punta Gorda, since 1980, has the knots to prove it.
Most people come to The Original Smoke House Restaurant for a breakfast of biscuits or potatoes and sausage gravy. Pam Adelson, owner for 27 years now, learned how to make that gravy from original owner Fred Addison, whose grandmother’s recipe it was.
“We’ve been here so long,” said Adelson. “A while ago our back-door spring broke, so we ended up using bungie cords. Now they have knots in them.”
Unfortunately, Adelson now faces the same dilemma as Shorty’s Place owner Sheryl Peters. Over three years ago, Peters hustled to buy a second Punta Gorda bar, Shorty’s 2, as a fail-safe when her property went on the market.
The entire 11-lot property on which the Smoke House’s three lots sit is for sale for over $700,000, according to Adelson. Her options are either buying the property or relocating. Both would be so costly that Adelson’s daughter, Jessica Sorbino, briefly ran a GoFundMe to try to help.
“There’s so much history behind that building, that’s why she really wants to stay where she is,” said Sorbino.
“I’m just keeping my fingers crossed that nobody is interested,” said Adelson. “Or that a new owner could lease the restaurant to me. As long as I don’t have to leave, I’ll be thrilled.”
So will many Charlotte High alums, including Dale Sause and Jim Gatto, who grew up with the Smoke House supporting their sports accomplishments.
“It should be a landmark,” said Sause, who now lives in Orlando.
“We used to go every morning before or after football workouts,” said Gatto. “I’d love to see them stay around so my children can have the same experience I did as a youngster in school. It was always a welcoming place to go enjoy some good southern food and great company. That family is my family.”
The Smoke House ($, cash only), 941-639-2000, 415 Cooper St., is open Tuesday to Friday 6 a.m. to 1 p.m., Saturday 6 a.m. to noon, Sunday 7 a.m. to noon.
Nan’s new Noodle
It’s been more than 13 years since Nan MacFarland opened the doors of a tiny Asian grocery store in Port Charlotte’s Murdock Carrousel.
One day, a display of colorful photos appeared over the register, illustrating Thai dishes for takeout. Between the images and the aromas wafting out of the kitchen, it became clear there was suddenly more to this Asian market than bottled fish sauce.
MacFarland renamed her place Asian Market and Café, and hasn’t looked back since.
“For seven years,” she said, “we were just an Asian grocery store with a couple tables. But because cooking was in my blood, I had to do a restaurant.”
In 2013 she shrank the grocery side and grew the dining area, maintaining only a couple of store shelves. On Labor Day weekend 2014, she went all-out restaurant, later renaming it Nan’s Thai Noodle, to make it more obviously Thai.
Last month, Nan’s place closed, only to grow again into one of two next-door units.
Once a market with takeout and a lone table, Nan’s Thai Noodle has gone from 45 to 65 seats, in an expanded, cheerful space with Thai-tea-orange and lime-green walls. The kitchen is now four times larger, so that, according to MacFarland, “I can cook faster, faster for you guys.”
“Sometimes when a restaurant grows and gets busy, they stop caring in the kitchen,” she said. “That’s not going to happen in mine!”
Nan’s Thai Noodle ($-$$), 941-624-0778, 1900 Tamiami Trail, is open Tuesday to Friday 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 4 to 9 p.m., Saturday and Sunday 4 to 9 p.m.
Send restaurant and bar news and recommendations to columnist Sue Wade at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Average price ranges are $ = inexpensive (under $10), $$ = moderate ($11-$30), and $$$ = pricey (over $30), including tip and beverage.