Char-Grill: A Triangle favorite, now available in the Triad
A half-pound hanburger steak and French fries at High Point’s Char- Grill. (photo by Joe Murphy)
It’s furniture market time in High Point once again, which means that the fancy showrooms downtown — ahem, uptown — are actually being utilized. Down the block a hop, at the corner of Lexington and Main streets, there is an inconspicuous, small, lighted sign for “Char-Grill,” in white script against a black backdrop. Directly underneath white letters indicate their staple menu items: “Hamburger Steaks, Fries, Shakes.” A yellow banner hangs that touts Char-Grill’s 15 consecutive “Best Burger Award” awards voted by the readers of the now defunct Triangle alternative weekly Spectator Magazine.
The understated sign may not attract attention passing by in a car, but Char-Grill is an institution in Raleigh. It’s location on Hillsborough Street near NC State’s campus opened in 1959 in the years since expanded to other Raleigh and Triangle locations and since February there has been a High Point location.
Char-Grill was Raleigh’s first “fast food hamburger grill” and the High Point location still utilizes the original ordering style and restaurant layout. When you enter Char-Grill there are thin menus and a bucket of pencils. You indicate what you would like and what toppings or condiments you want on your burger, grilled-chicken sandwich, hot dog, barbecue sandwich, grilled cheese or salad. I ordered one of their signature half-pound hamburger steaks with mayo, ketchup, mustard, onion, pickles, lettuce and tomato, and chose to add cheese (but not bacon or slaw) for an additional charge. I also ordered French fries and a chocolate shake.
I put the slip of paper through a slot in the plexiglass that separates the grill from the dining area. I walked around the corner to the register station, also behind plexiglass, and caught a glimpse of the man on the grill putting down my burger and pressing it down with a spatula. He studied my order menu that hung above the flames and set about steaming the bun of my burger.
Though the restaurant is designed so that you can watch as your food is freshly prepared, as someone who used to get paid to run a grill that was also visible to the public (not Char-Grill, they don’t have a location in that area code yet), I consider it impolite to gawk at someone working the grill — it’s especially bothersome when the tickets pile up and the grill is already full. So once I paid for my order and got my milkshake, I took a seat in the dining area and caught the score of the baseball game on the television in the corner.
The fries and burger alone were about six bucks and the milkshake added three to the total. But a coupon for $2 off brought my total to $7.51.
The milkshake was too thick for a straw, but was still excellent when consumed by the spoonful. It tasted like what a Wendy’s Frosty wishes it could be. Quickly enough, my burger and fries were ready in a bag at the register, the burger wrapped in unmarked aluminum foil and the fries in plain white paper.
The burger itself stood in stark contrast to what currently passes as a “fast food burger” — those which at some places are shot up with so many preservatives that they are not bio-degradable. It oozed fresh grease when I squeezed on the bun and bit into it.
The fries, I can attest as a former fry cook as well (you have to prove yourself on the fryer before they let you tackle the grill) were rich with flavor and had the perfect amount of crisp. Timing is everything in food preparation — and perhaps some other aspects of life as well — and Char-Grill and its employees have that down.
Char-Grill’s half-pound hamburger steak is in my personal list of 10 best burgers I’ve eaten this year (that ain’t easy either, I’m usually a carnivore) and, with the coupon, the best $7.50 I’ve spent on a cheeseburger, fries and a shake in a long time.
Just don’t tell the market visitors about High Point’s new local burger joint, I’d hate to overwhelm the staff.