Naming a restaurant is forever, but restaurant owners get endless chances to honor their customers, friends and heroes by assigning their names to menu items. In a food-fixated society, there is possibly no higher honor than owning a sandwich.
Typically, it’s hard for a customer to break onto a menu without visiting the restaurant many, many times, which may explain why Charleston — where people who can afford to eat out are always interested in the next new thing — isn’t home to a surplus of burgers and subs bearing locals’ names.
The short list includes Queen Street Grocery’s “Murray,” a crepe filled with turkey, brie and pesto in celebration of the city’s favorite comedian and RiverDogs fan; and Parlor Deluxe’s Gee Thang, a jalapeno sausage assembled in memory of beloved hot dog vendor Gary Alameda.
But there are also less familiar names on local menus. Here, a guide to a few of the men (they’re all men) immortalized through food:
Ingredients: turkey, ham, fried onions and yellow mustard on bread
North Central Deli owner Paul Cheney knew he wanted named sandwiches on his menu when he opened his Huger Street counter, but he didn’t want the scheme to come across as phony. So he had to patiently wait on customers to establish ordering patterns when taking the “build your own sandwich” option.
“It was a bit of a gamble, as there are some folks who do not possess the creativity to even design their own sandwiches,” Cheney says. “They literally take 3-5 minutes to create a sandwich, or sometimes they just say, ‘Make me what you like to eat.’ ”
Not Troy, an employee of nearby Boomtown. He ordered the same boring turkey sandwich every single time: “He is one of those larger-than-life personalities that lights up a room when he walks into it, but he is possibly the pickiest eater we have met,” Cheney says lovingly.
Once The Troy appeared on the menu, its inspiration became one of Cheney’s best salesmen.
“Troy aggressively tells people the best sandwich in the world is The Troy,” Cheney says. “We have seen him buy Troys for friends who did not even want a Troy. We have seen him belittle customers he doesn’t even know for not ordering a Troy.”
In the case of The Troy, also known as The T-Roy, Cheney sometimes has to tamp down customers’ excitement: “When folks order a Troy, we have to gently remind them that this is a Spartan, almost dry turkey sandwich.”
Ingredients: mussels, oysters, clams, shrimp, Alaskan snow crab legs, smoked sausage and grilled corn-on-the-cob in a bucket
Ivan Fields, who in 2003 finished second in a contest to determine the nation’s fastest oyster shucker, is a longtime A.W. Shucks employee. (The French Market restaurant earlier this year adjusted its concept and changed its name to match.) He also teaches high school math.
Ingredients: sauteed shrimp or chicken over a pile of French fries with sauteed onions and bell peppers; cheese and Nana’s sauce.
“Bo Kinky was an old bootlegger and numbers runner,” explains Nana’s owner, Kenyatta McNeil, who last year started naming menu items for neighborhood elders after driver Billy Blue passed away. The westside restaurant itself is named for McNeil’s grandmother. “She wasn’t a restaurant-style cook, but most of our recipes come from her,” he says.
As for Bo Kinky, he died about a decade ago. “At one point, I was scared of him,” McNeil says, remembering his distinctive appearance. But that was exactly the feeling he wanted to conjure in connection with his loaded fries: “It’s something that the way it looks, you’d be intrigued.”
Other named items on Nana’s menu include the Big Brad, a combination of garlic shrimp, lobster tail and snow crab that honors the late Brad Tucker, a mechanic who dressed entirely in black and kept vultures and alligators in the Gadsden Green complex.
Then there’s the Monkey Heart, a fish dish named after a fisherman who sold shark steaks and conch door-to-door; he also died 10 years ago.
“These are the true legends,” McNeil says. “These are the people who taught us how to be strong.”
Ingredients: turkey breast, country ham, bacon, lettuce, tomato, mayonnaise and spicy brown mustard on three Texas toast slices.
Back at North Central Deli, owner Paul Cheney has noticed “there is an awkwardly awesome sense of pride in the customers’ eyes when they see their sandwich in print on the menu.”
That’s a privilege that money can buy: The Alley’s club is named for owner David Crowley.