Currently, Charlotte has its own triangle, one of a culinary nature. This food triad is comprised of burgers, tacos, and sushi with nontraditional presentations. The trend has been to mix flavors with customers splurging for the flashier specialty burgers, tacos, and rolls — even merging these together.
But summertime brings out the backyard grills, which in turn prompts the atavistic desire of cooking meat over a flame. The more simple and straightforward, the better the burger becomes. No need for pizza-styled lists to build a burger. All that is necessary are slices of tomato and onion, leaves of lettuce, and perhaps some cheese piled on quality beef.
Keeping it simple like this is the winning formula that mainstay burger eateries have used for decades. Char-Grill, a burger joint which opened in 1959 on Hillsborough Street in Raleigh, is an example of this. When Char-Grill opened, the store had walk up windows and no interior seating. By being located near the NC State campus, Char-Grill soon became part of the campus culture. In 2007, the Char-Grill owners, who have four stores in Raleigh, elected to franchise. Today, these franchised stores are located in Cary, Durham, Garner and High Point. Austin Green, who is also a commercial real estate broker, opened his first store in Davidson last April. This is the first Charlotte area store and Green plans to open two other stores in Charlotte, although time and location have not been determined.
The Davidson store with its industrial feel has about 100 seats inside and more on a patio. Noise is not quite absorbed and during the summer, kids arrive here in droves. In the center of the space is the large kitchen enclosed by glass so customers can watch all aspects of the operations. Against the glass closest to the dining area is the surprisingly small but legendary grill. Char-Grill uses lava rocks and gas flames to cook the burgers. At any one time, scores of burgers are being lapped by fire.
Char-Grill burgers come in three sizes. The original Hamburger Steak is half a pound of ground Angus beef formed into a square and served on steamed seeded bun. The junior is half a patty — or a rectangle — and comes on a hoagie-shaped bun. The round Char-burger is a three-ounce, round patty. These flash seared burgers are enlivened with toppings. The only cheese, though, is American.
When my order was ready, and the food unwrapped, I was hit by a gorgeous smoky aroma wafting from my burger. I had no choice. I was hooked.
I was not as keen on the oddly red, beef and pork hot dogs, supplied by Carolina Packers Bright Leaf. This popular wiener brand in the Raleigh area is the only hot dog I know of that is named after tobacco. Is this a good thing? But the chocolate milkshake offers an appropriately creamy taste. Char-Grill is known for their chocolate milkshakes and Green has expanded the menu from chocolate and vanilla to include strawberry and a seasonal milkshake, currently apple pie. The best of the desserts are the delicious brownies made locally by La Patisserie, a bakery in Mooresville. If all this is not seductive enough, Char-Grill is reasonably priced. Nothing on the menu is more than $5.50 and those half pound burgers are only $4.50.