Sep 2, 2022 - Food and Drink

The Penguin is back with a new owner, new menu and in a new location

The Penguin

The Penguin is located in Dilworth. Photo: Laura Barrero/Axios

The Penguin has re-opened in Dilworth with some old favorites and new menu items.

Owner Martin Sprock — also of Kid Cashew, Leroy Fox, RuRu’s, among others — hopes people will give the new restaurant a shot after the transformation.

Context: The Penguin was a Plaza Midwood staple for over 50 years. It was even featured on Guy Fieri’s “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.”

Years of messy management battles followed, however, as Jeremy Markovich wrote in Charlotte magazine in 2015. Those years included bankruptcy and a brief reopening in 2011, as CBJ reported, but the restaurant closed for good in 2014.

  • People had visceral reactions to the closure. The daughter of the former owner, Lisa Ballentine, told WBTV at the time that she “received physical threats over the internet to harm her or The Penguin.” 
  • Today, people still feel strongly about The Penguin and anything that has to do with it. Even the signage out front got negative reaction when it was first put up last year.

Yes, but: Sprock told me he owes it to former owner Jim Ballentine to keep The Penguin alive. He says Lisa entrusted him with the brand which he purchased the rights to about a decade ago.

  • Sprock does want to make one thing clear, however: He says he won’t tolerate negative energy at The Penguin. “We just want people to come here and have a good time,” Sprock said.

The menu: The food is perhaps the biggest shift from the OG spot, but Sprock says that’s for the best. “The food at the old Penguin wasn’t that good to begin with,” Sprock says.

  • He did keep some fan favorites like the fried pickles and the original Penguin sauce recipe ($6.95), but for the most part, the menu is totally different.
  • There are hints of Asian flavors in dishes like the seared ahi tuna ($12.95) and the ramen bowls ($14.95).
  • He also has a different take on Southern-style bar food. The “kick his ass seabass,” ($12.95) for example, is like a Philly cheesesteak on steroids.
  • You can get a 16-ounce beer from Sugar Creek brewery for $5.

Details: The new Penguin is huge. It seats about 150-160 people inside and 75 people on its outdoor patio. It has a full bar, a coffee bar and private rooms for small gatherings.

  • Decorated by Sprock and partner Azam Mehdi, the space pays homage to the original Penguin in the form of old photographs and signs.
  • It’s located at 1531 East Blvd., where Mayobird and Summit Room used to be. It’s open Sunday-Wednesday 11am-9pm, Thursday 11am-9:30pm, Friday and Saturday 11am-10pm.
The Penguin
The bar serves drinks ranging in price from $7- $11.95. They also have wine and beer. Photo: Laura Barrero/Axios
The Penguin
The outdoor patio fits about 75 people outside. Photo: Laura Barrero/Axios
The Penguin
Seared ahi tuna ($12.95) — sesame seed encrusted ahi tuna*, seared rare, cabbage-jicama slaw,drizzled ponzu sauce and wasabi creama. Photo: Laura Barrero/Axios
The Penguin
Kick his ass seabass ($12.95) — certified black angus sirloin steak, duke’s mayo, wasabi cream, penguin mushroom gravy, homemade queso, caramelized onions.
The Penguin
The Penguin pilsner and The Big O are both on tap from Sugar Creek brewery. Photo: Laura Barrero/Axios
The Penguin
Famous fried pickles with penguin sauce since 1954 ($6.95). Photo: Laura Barrero/Axios
The Penguin
Ho Cakes ($6.95) — 7 for the big guy, Zepplin-Donuts® dusted with powdered sugar and crème anglaise. Photo: Laura Barrero/Axios
The Penguin
Charred pork belly ramen bowl ($14.95) — shiitake mushrooms, napa cabbage, black garlic oil, sesame seeds, scallions, soft egg. Photo: Laura Barrero/Axios
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