Now burgers are to me, the All-American meal. Take some freshly ground chuck, slap it on a grill and you’re good to go. Maybe some cheese, onion, pickle and condiments and it’s time to eat! But you know that local celebrity chef Ashley Christensen is not going to stop there. The burgers at Chuck’s on Wilmington Street take burgers to the next level with an array of Southern inspired toppings and specialties. And while Chuck’s burgers aren’t perfect, they will give the burgers at Draft a run for their money and a bit more. Take that first bite into one of her mighty meaty sandwiches and I think you’ll agree. The simplicity of a burger means you gotta get it all right to be special, and Chuck’s is pretty darn special when it comes to burgers.
Inside, Chuck’s has got the Air Jordan motif going on: black, red and white’s all around. Similar to Beasley’s, they’ve got a large open space with lots of sunshine and an art-deco, industrial feel. Check out the interesting red, lacquered metal stools and chairs, very cool. Or look overhead at the grid of pendant lights hanging from an inset spot on the ceiling. Beheaded cattle decorate one side of the wall in a bit of funky homage to your upcoming burger. Chuck’s has got its hip decor down cold. And while it used to be counter service, Chuck’s has now moved to table service. They’ve still got the menu chalked up in back but you’ll also get a paper version at your table. Thankfully the menu is not long, two sizes of burger (5 oz, 8 oz), two types of fries (side, Belgian), dipping sauces and one lonely salad option. And yes, you’ve got a vegetarian burger for you non-carnivores.
You can build your own burger at Chuck’s or do one of the special burger styles ranging from the Spirit Animal with cream cheese-chile pepper’s or the Last Word topped with kale and sottocenere (cheese laced with truffle). Very gourmet style toppings, I’ll admit to not being enthralled with the specialty options, I like my burgers a bit more basic. But the Dirty South burger with smoked shoulder, chili, cheddar, tomato slaw and mustard is probably my fave.
Service is pretty quick, should only be five to ten minutes for your sandwich and it’s a beautiful creation when it comes out. The half-pounder is thick and nicely topped with extras, a stout wooden spear holds everything together. Chuck’s does a fantastic job with the details. The burger was cooked to order with a touch of pink, the meat is ground well and tender, the cheese is beautifully MELTED all over your patty. Biting into this burger takes some effort, it’s a great meaty meal but all the toppings work together pretty well. My only complaints are the bun (looks like a generic potato bun), a bit of excess saltiness (chili?) and couldn’t really taste the onions on my burger. The bun needs a bit sturdier to handle everything but overall a great mouthful of grilled meat!
With only one option for a side, fries, you better believe they’re good! The Belgium fries are exquisite: thick, skin-on, double-fried babies. So you’ve got the well-salted skin along with the double-fried potato surface which gives these fries great texture. Inside the fry, it’s potatoey-fluffy, hard to describe so I’m making up new words! Tie in the delicious options for dipping sauces and you’ve nearly got yourself a meal right there. Both the garlic-aioli and chili sauces seemed freshly made, and sparkled with flavor. Yeah, all I can say is that these Belgian fries are yum-plus. Now if you’ve been to any of Ashley’s restaurants, you know you’re going to get high-quality ingredients but yes, you’re also going to pay a bit more. At $9/specialty burger, a $4 add-on for Belgian fries (which could be shared) and a Mexican coke it comes up to about $15. But that is a TON of food and compares very favorably to what Draft dishes out for its burgers. It’s actually a bit cheaper than Draft which means there may be a new burger champion in Raleigh for me. I actually like Draft’s broader array of burger and side selections better. But Chuck’s may have one upped them on taste and quality. And at a slightly lower price so who am I to complain?
Yeah, it’s a close one and you really can’t go wrong with either. My best burger EVER is probably still FLIP Burger in Atlanta but if you’re in downtown Raleigh and looking to get your moo-cow on, I can’t think of a better spot than Chuck’s right now. So kudos to the AC Restaurant team for putting out a great hamburger! But I’m guessing the cows in the area might hope that we eat at the recently opened Beasley’s fried chicken next door instead. Because after eating at Chuck’s the next time you pass a cow grazing in a field you’ll be thinking, “bon appetit”!