Airport Dining: Summer House (CLT, Charlotte, NC)

Due to the amount of travel we do here at Offbeat Eats, one of the more common topics here is airport dining. I’ve found that, while never really outstanding (and often both expensive and disappointing), airport dining is cyclical in nature. In this case, the pandemic business interruptions at most US airports have made for a few seismic shifts as long-established businesses either closed or got outbid on renewing their leases. And several airports have really shifted their food strategy; Chicago Midway in particular seemed to remove most of their moving walkways and turfed out tried-and-true vendors so they could cram in more expensive bars that take up valuable seating space (heck, you can’t even score a decent Hot Italian Beef anymore, and there used to be a good half-dozen options). And most every place these days also seems to suffer from the ever-present “staffing issues”. So when I find myself at an airport, particularly with domestic travel, it’s rare that I find a place that’s both reasonably-priced and reasonably-tasty, so when I do, I try to review it. That brings me to a recent trip through Charlotte-Douglas International Airport in North Carolina, where I found Summer House.

Honestly, as large regional airport hubs go, Charlotte-Douglas actually has some pretty good dining options spread through three major food courts in the terminals, but most of the better options there actually lean towards fast food (Bojangles, and a good half-dozen national burger chains), but I was craving something a bit more healthy, less greasy, and more composed. That really narrowed it down to two options, the 1897 Market (which had some good looking salads), and over on Concourse B, a location of Summer House. Summer House is actually a chain (from Chicago-based Lettuce Entertain You, with locations in Chicago, Bethesda, Las Vegas, and Orlando), and the CLT location opened in 2021 as a streamlined, simpler menu location customized for the airport. And it’s actually a nice spot, instead of being rushed and cramped, it’s well-light and nicely spacious. You actually get a bit of a sense of escaping from the airport.

The menu at Summer House is basically “California-inspired Cuisine” with a good selection of sandwiches, fish tacos, grilled fish, salads, and even the requisite-for-California-cuisine avocado toast. I ended up going for the Venice Beach Chicken, a grilled chicken sandwich with avocado, bacon, pickle, lettuce, tomato, onion, and 1000 Island dressing. This wasn’t terribly fancy, but it was nicely executed. The grilled chicken was both crispy and moist, the topping fresh, and the bun toasted. This was an actually decent sandwich for an airport (which is good; there’s a Bojangle’s just down the way offering some competition), and the nicely-executed fries a good add-on. I’d happily get this again.

Carol, meanwhile, got the fish tacos. These had the option of being either fried or grilled, and she opted for fried. These were decent fish tacos. The fish itself was properly cooked, and the toppings nicely cool and crisp, and the salsa nice and bold, but the breading was on the ragged end of “overcooked” (not quite burnt, but definitely on the dark brown end). Despite that, still a decent set of tacos.

So while it’s not the fanciest food, I rather liked Summer House, enough so that it’s probably going to get a visit on next week’s trip through CLT as well. The food is good (and the cocktail menu looked nice as well, but we didn’t indulge this time), the service friendly, and the ambiance surprisingly nice. That’s impressive for an airport dining option.

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