Rock & Shop Market (+ Food Trucks!) – Dec. 17

Coming up on Saturday December 17th is the Rock & Shop Market, an awesome event that will feature about 100 designers selling handmade goods, a bevy of food trucks, a fashion show, and two bands!  The festivities will occur at three adjacent venues in Durham: Motorco Music Hall, FullSteam Brewery, and the Trotter Building.  Admission to the shopping and music experience is $5.  There’s no admission fee for access to the food trucks, and the following trucks are tentatively slated to appear to feed the masses:

The event goes from 12 noon – 6 pm. For more information, please visit http://www.rockandshopmarket.com

I look forward to seeing you there!

 

Char-Grill (Raleigh, NC)

image courtesy of flickr

If it’s true that some things never change, then that has to be a big part of why the Char-Grill on Hillsborough St. in Raleigh continues to thrive, having unwavered in its devotion to deliver that most quintessential of American meals – a burger, fries, and a shake –  since 1959.  The large sign out front says all you need to know about the place, and, for over 50 years, there have been no frills and probably no surprises to the steady stream of customers: Char-Grill maintains its commitment to the classicly simple even into this age of gourmet burgers, extravagant toppings, and duck-fat fries.  Place your order on a slip of paper, slide down a little metal chute, wait for the flames to erupt on the grill, and, a few minutes, later, your name is called.  There’s no ambience except the nostalgia of an institution, and there’s hardly anywhere to sit, but where else can you have the exact same experience that your parents, and maybe their parents, did?

As for the food itself, it’s cheap and reliable, even if the burgers and hot crispy fries aren’t much better than average.  For this style of burger and fries, Five Guys does it better, and Only Burger easily surpasses them both, especially with it’s commitment to sustainable beef and the offering of occasional specials.

Over the years, the restaurant has expanded to a handful of locations across the Triangle.  But the atmosphere and history of the Hillsborough St. one lends it a distinct charm.  And that makes Char-Grill something to hold on to in Raleigh.  So here’s hoping that some things never change.

Review: Chuck’s (Raleigh, NC)

Last week I wrote about Beasley’s, Ashley Christensen’s new fried chicken place in downtown Raleigh. Christensen’s ambitious plans for the corner of Wilmington and Martin Streets have now come to fruition with the additional openings of Chuck’s and Fox Liquor Bar, both of which are directly adjacent to Beasley’s.

Like Beasley’s, Chuck’s is devoted to just one classic American meal. In the case of Chuck’s, it’s the hamburger and fries. And just like at Beasley’s and Poole’s Diner, Christensen elevates this simple cuisine through distinctive ambience, quality ingredients, and, most rewardingly, excellent cooking.

The interior of Chuck’s is bare bones but chic, with a simple palette of white, black, and bright red. To emphasize the restaurant’s main culinary attraction, a large image of a cow adorns the front window (complete with hash marks highlighting the shoulder – source of the ground chuck) and several imposing black bull heads are mounted along one interior wall. Despite the huge communal table at Beasley’s, Chuck’s is the more casual spot, thanks in part to the brighter lighting and lack of table service. But whereas Bull City Burger & Brewery in Durham exudes conviviality and a certain charm, Chuck’s hews closer to the no-frills ambience of a Five Guys. It’s more refined (by a huge margin), but it’s a little cold.

This is not a restaurant for vegetarians: your only options are about a half-dozen specialty burgers ($9 each) and a 1/2 lb of Belgian fries (cooked in duck fat, $4). As far as I know, you can’t create your own burger, as you can at BCBB (or most any other burger joint for that matter), but the choices are all quite tempting. My wife opted for the “The Big House” (cheddar, sorghum-dijon, thyme-caramelized shallots) and I went for the “Spirit Animal” (cream cheese, grilled tomato, roasted poblanos, tortilla dust). With your fries, which are meant to be shared by two people, you get your choice of about 7 different dipping sauces, ranging from green-peppercorn Dijon to the mysterious “comeback sauce”. We went with the roasted garlic aioli, and they’ll give you a side of ketchup as well, if you like. The burgers came out quickly, each wrapped in paper. The fries are cutely presented in Chinese take-out style box. When my burger turned out to be the same as my wife’s (not what I ordered), the staff was exceedingly gracious, and offered me a free milkshake to compensate for their error.

The burgers were amazing. While I prefer the heartier bun at BCBB, the patty at Chuck’s was irreproachable: thick with slight charring on the outside, pink and very juicy on the inside. It simultaneously combined the best attributes of burgers from Only Burger and BCBB. It just doesn’t get much better. The fries were also very good, if not the best in the area. Maybe I’m just not a fan of thick-cut fries, but I prefer the shoestring duck fat frites with rosemary at BCBB. Even the regular ones there, or at Only Burger, or – dare I say-  at Five Guys, are about as satisfying as the fries at Chuck’s. The burgers at Chuck’s are big, but not excessively so, and, while 1/2 lb of fries sounds like an awful lot, it’s about right for two people.

Chuck’s also offers a tempting array of dessert-like milkshakes. I’ve tried both their salted peanut butter/roasted banana and pumpkin latte varities ($5 each). Both were excellent, if a bit more vanilla-y than I expected; I’m not sure I would order another.

Chuck’s fits in right at the top of area burger establishments, along with BCBB and Only Burger, and, like Beasley’s, provides a huge lift to Raleigh’s restaurant scene. But perhaps even more so than with Beasley’s, I have to wonder whether Chuck’s strikes the right note for Raleigh. The ambience is not especially inviting. The menu is extremely limited, and the gourmet burgers sound rather exotic, so a lack of customizability may drive away some customers. When I was there on a recent Saturday evening, it was not particularly crowded, and a group of two or three large guys wandered in, perused the menu, and left. The prices at Chuck’s are a little higher than those at BCBB, but I’d say they’re reasonable for one of the best burger experiences in the entire Triangle. I look forward to going back for more.

 Update (10/28/11): You can now get any burger as a 5oz “little chuck” for $6.75, and a side of fries for $2.50.  I believe they are now offering veggie burgers as well.

Review: Only Burger (Durham, NC)

May has somehow become the month of burgers and fries on this blog – two nights ago I followed up recent trips to MoJoe’s in Raleigh and Bull City Burger & Brewery (BCBB) in Durham with a visit to Only Burger.  I’d tried their burgers once before, from their truck, and didn’t especially love them (though I did enjoy the fries), but I was eager to check out their new storefront off of Shannon Rd. in Durham.

The space itself is tiny, with only a handful of tables.  Cavernous ceilings make it exceptionally loud, even if only a few patrons are present.  Despite the starkly limited menu, ordering at Only Burger is a bit tricky.  Your choices are spelled out on an array of placards above the counter, but they aren’t really arranged logically, and they don’t tell the whole story.  I think it would be helpful if the types of cheeses available were listed, and to mention, for example, that you can get your onions grilled, if you like.  I ordered a single ($4.75) with cheddar (an extra $0.50) and fries ($1.75), and my wife got a single with cheese and a side of onion rings ($2.75).  This, especially the former, is a good deal – for $7 you get a burger and a hefty cup full of fries (enough to split).

Your order is packed up in a paper bag when it’s ready.  Truckside, this is a necessity, but in the restaurant it’s just cumbersome.  It’s difficult to remove the fries and especially the onion rings from the bag without spilling some, and there’s really nowhere to put things – your burger’s foil wrapper immediately becomes your plate.  But these are minor quibbles.  The burger itself was quite good.  By comparison, BCBB’s burger was downright elegant (and a good bit juicier), but lacked the nice charry crustiness of Only Burger’s version.  The patty was well cooked and appropriately seasoned.  The fries were good but not great; similar to those from Five Guys, if a little less greasy.  The onion rings, on the other hand, were just bad.  The onions were cut too thickly, and there was almost no seasoning.  The accompanying dipping sauce was equally as forgettable.

The use of local, fresh ground meat and the varieties of cheese available – American, cheddar, swiss, pepperjack, pimiento, and maybe one other – puts Only Burger squarely ahead of Five Guys in my burger hierarchy, even if the overall experiences are roughly equivalent.  Only Burger also routinely offers specials, some of which are very enticing.  On the night I was there, they were offering 2oz lamb sliders with feta and tzatziki sauce.  It was very tempting, but, as you can probably tell from my last few posts, so is a good old-fashioned hamburger.

Rock & Shop Market

photo by Geoff Wood

The 11th Rock & Shop Market is coming up next Saturday December 4th from 12 – 6 pm. This year’s event will be in Durham and promises bigger and better than ever!  In addition to over 50 talented designers selling handmade goods, there will be two bands performing at the Motorco Music Hall (the Ox Magnolia and Onward Soldiers), a handful of food trucks (Only Burger, DaisyCakes, Klausie’s Pizza, and more) peddling their wares, and libations available across the street at the super-cool Fullsteam Brewery.  But’s that not all!  There will also be a fashion show and a DJ for entertainment.  Admittance to the event is $5.  Come out and bring all of your friends.  For more information, visit http://www.rockandshopmarket.com or on Facebook here.