If you haven’t experienced the chicken-fried steak at Nickel Charlie’s Restaurant and Casino in Evergreen, then you can bet many people across the Flathead Valley probably feel sorry for you.
The dish is a classic. It’s one that has withstood countless menu tweaks over the years. You can eat it for breakfast with eggs, for dinner with mashed potatoes, or at just about any time of the day you so please.
Other fare has eventually risen to join the tried-and-true staple on the list of must-haves from patrons who dine at Nickel Charlie’s frequently. One such example is the The Cowboy — a burger topped with melted cheddar, bacon, mini crispy onion rings and chipotle barbecue sauce that was added about six years ago and has found a permanent spot on the restaurant’s offerings.
Regardless of your choice, whether it be a chicken-fried steak, burger, or any of the other items, Nickel Charlie’s General Manager Melissa Reyna says they all taste like home.
“It’s the food that just makes you feel good,” Reyna said. “Comfort food is like your pot roast and gravy, your mashed potatoes and carrots and maybe a homemade salad. It will fill you up and it’s affordable.”
Since the joint first opened as Charlie’s Beer Depot back in 1961, it has always specialized in comfort food, or cuisine that evokes a sense of nostalgia for a certain person, place, or time and typically doesn’t lack in ingredients we all love — butter to name one.
Somewhere along the line, at least three decades ago, the depot became Nickel Charlie’s. According to the restaurant’s website, the name dates back to the 1800s when a man referred to as Old Mr. Grossman was deemed as one of the first to use a wooden Indian as a means to “hold and promote his prized Havana cigars.” The wooden Indian eventually became known as Nickel Charlie, “purveyor of the fresh, 5-cent, Havana cigars.”
Regardless of the change in name and multiple changes in ownership throughout the years, Reyna says longtime regulars keep coming back for the grub and the atmosphere.
“We have some people who come here every day and they know exactly what they want. They keep coming back year after year because of our food and because of the integrity of our staff,” Reyna said. “You can tell we all work as a team. We don’t think of the back of the house as separate from the front of the house, we really gather around and take care of each other.”
Reyna, who has been the general manager for three years, said there are about eight employees who have worked at Nickel Charlie’s for at least a decade. It’s employees such as these that she says keeps regulars sliding into the booths.
“People like a familiar face,” Reyna said.
Nickel Charlie’s, which sits where it always has east of downtown Kalispell off U.S. 2 in Evergreen, was taken over in 1996 by Nick Alonzo and Bob Powell. The pair, both Missoula natives, own a number of other eateries including the state’s five Montana Club restaurants.
A few years after Alonzo and Powell took over, in 2006, the building interior was remodeled.
The kitchen moved to the far east wall and expanded and new furniture rolled in, adding dozens of seating spaces. Old mini collector cars — not for sale, Reyna stresses — were hung from the ceiling,
The dark brown wooden bar that catches one’s eye upon entry to the restaurant, remains in its state and position. It’s the bar that Reyna tended for years before accepting her role as general manager.
Reyna said when Alonzo and Powell took over, the restaurant was known specifically for its pizza and burgers. Over the last 14 years, chefs have worked to expand the breakfast and dinner menus significantly, and barring favorites such as The Cowboy, diners should expect changes in offerings every now and then.
During that time, a few dining specials also emerged. Reyna points specifically to Nickel Mondays, when diners pay $13.95 for a special dish and the second one is one nickel. This week’s special was bourbon street pork with sides. Another that was recently brought back is the restaurant’s popular $10 burger and beer special.
“Our kitchen manager tries to stay creative with the specials,” Reyna said. “We are usually packed starting at 4 p.m. and it will be like that until 8:30 or so.”
Looking forward, additional remodeling will include a face lift for the restaurant and casino’s outdated parking lot, among other fixes.
Despite any past or planned cosmetic and menu upgrades, Reyna said Powell and Alonzo have made it known they will never open a second Nickel Charlie’s.
“It’s a very unique place for staff and customers,” Reyna said. “This has always been the “Cheers” place to go, really for all the community.”
For hours of operation, menus and specials, go to www.nickelcharlies.com
Reporter Kianna Gardner can be reached at 758-4407 or firstname.lastname@example.org