Chuck’s Re-Review – Fall from Grace

Chad got there early. Despite the fact that the restaurant was 90% empty, he was denied a table. The hostess would not seat him until the full party had arrived. He had to go sit in the corner. Literally sit in the corner on a lonely metal chair. They might as well have given him a dunce cap.

Strike one. Nobody puts Chad in the corner.*

“Chuck’s has changed its burger formula. As I recall, they used to feature 1/3lb burgers, the perfect size (or at least gave you an option). The burgers at Chucks are now 1/4lb, which is fine if you like medium to medium well. I ordered mine medium rare. That’s a tricky temperature for a thinner patty, but I expected the grill cooks at Chuck’s to be able to pull it off, as they are among the best in the Triangle. They didn’t. I got an overcooked, underseasoned burger.

Strike two.

We generally don’t let atmosphere or sides influence our burger ratings. I’m going to make an exception here. I was not happy about sitting alone in the corner while the few patrons who were there wondered what I had done wrong, but I can deal with that. When Micheal showed up, the hostess did indeed show us to one of the many empty tables before Don arrived. That was nice. But the the other element that should not be influencing my feelings about Chuck’s (but is) are the fries. I haven’t been there in a while, but the last couple of times I’ve been to Chuck’s the fries have been plentiful and perfectly crafted. This time the side order of fries was skimpy and had clearly only been fried once rather than twice, which is standard restaurant practice to achieve a crispy outside and fluffy, potato-y interior. These were like the fries my mom used to make in her Fry Daddy — too brown on the outside and mushy on the inside.

Strike three.

Chuck’s used to be one of the best — if not the best — burger places in the Triangle. We have sung its praises for years. We put it at the top of our Best Burgers in NC list. In that time, however, the bar has been raised significantly. Al’s Burger Shack, Mojoes, b.good, Buns, Only Burger and others have come along to create a vibrant burger scene. Chuck’s has not kept up. They have rested on their laurels, and it shows. I can’t give this burger any better than a 3.5.”

* Extra points if you get the “Dirty Dancing” reference.

Michael arrived to find Chad sitting at his place in the corner. He walked past no less than 8 empty tables to be told that we wouldn’t be seated until everyone in their was party was there.

“The thing that really disappoints me about the Chuck’s burger is how good it used to be. I think I would give it a pass with something like a 4.00, if this is the first time I had eaten this burger. It used to be the pinnacle of burger establishments. When people would ask me about my favorite burger, I would tell them it was at Chucks.

Alas, The Spirt Animal is no longer the best burger in the Triangle. It is not even the best burger in downtown Raleigh. The care that was taken at Chucks originally set it apart. This burger was thrown together hastily. Gone are the perfectly-sized 5 oz and 8 oz patties. Replaced by a too small 4 oz and a too-thick double to replace the 8 oz.

The Spirit Animal is described as having tortilla dust. The first time I had it, it was pulverized and mashed into the cream cheese. It gave a hint of tortilla flavor without any evidence it was there. On our re-review night, there was a solitary tortilla chip broken into 6-7 pieces on top of the cheese. The other toppings were below the patty making it a pathetic mess. Below. The. Patty.

I may sound harsh in this review for something that, honestly, is decent. This used to be a 5.0 burger. The burger against which all other burgers were based. Now it is an uninspiring place that is more about flare than flavor.

Chucks? Pfft. Whatevs. Head down to b.good a block or two away. 3.5″

Don was nostalgic for better days. “There comes a time when your greatness causes complacency – like a middle-aged burger reviewer who once could spin words into gold, comedy gold, but now can barely string two words together with a hyphen. Unfortunately, Chuck’s is struggling with this now. There was a time when I would fast in the morning and  gladly schedule my time where I could be there at 11:45 am to beat the lunch rush just to get that fresh juicy love in my stomach. It was special, it was our best. But alas that time has past. And the worst thing I can say about is, ‘it has become ordinary’. A fairly good ordinary, but ordinary and unmemorable.

I go my usual, ‘Bear in Heaven’ and it was nothing special. Unlike my com padres I don’t worry about atmosphere or fries, so my burger is my task and my task was uninspired. The ingredients played well together, but it had lost something- that “it” factor.  It has been mentioned before, but the lack of the bigger patties being replaced with thinner smaller patties really removes the juicy factor to the burger that made Chuck’s so special.

Chuck’s you are still pretty good- a 4.0 but you, like me, were so much more.”

After our re-review, Chuck’s falls from 1 to 15 out of 73.


Carolyn has since been to Chuck’s since our visit described above.

“I went to Chucks on Monday for lunch and was surprised at the burger, in a good way.  I got the Dirty South, as I always do, but it was much better than it has been in the past 3 or 4 visits.  I’m not sure if they have a new cook or what, but the burger was excellent.  The past few prior times the burger has been sub-par – the meat has been meh and the toppings have been spotty and limp. Monday, tho – everything was working together, fresh-tasting and snappy.”

Is this a sign that Chuck’s has started to turn it around or a one off visit? Time will tell.

Revisit – Mojoe’s Burger Joint (Raleigh, NC)

How many times have you said to yourself, “I could go for a burger.” Well, the media, backed by the people at the Mushroom Council, has come to demonize red meat. If burgers are so bad for us, we should make our times spent with them count. We shouldn’t just go to the nearest fast food place to satiate our desire for ground cow meat.

We should go to a place like Mojoe’s Burger Joint. A place that cares. A place that serves up consistent quality. A place that uses the Keep It Simple Stupid method of burgering. A place that deserves to be TSB Certified.

Michael’s rating: I knick them a bit for poor bacon placement. When in rarified air such as this, one has to nitpick. I give them a 4.75.

Don’s rating: Mojoe’s has the consistency ideal down pat. A good burger at a good value. 4.5

Revisit – The Players’ Retreat (Raleigh, NC)

We here at the Straight Beef decided to look way, way back, to our first review, The Players’ Retreat, and visit them again. This time it was Dr. Michael Marino and, me, the Reverend Donald Corey, putting the PR to the test, a re-test if you will. If the PR came through then it would receive the first Straight Beef Certification Sticker ever given, a coveted culinary honor.

Michael: I could go for the easy joke here. The Players Retreat in Raleigh is basically on NC State’s campus. In ordering the Wolfpack Burger, I could say that the Wolfpack offered a lot of promise but didn’t deliver — much like their basketball team. I won’t though. Even if I wanted to, I can’t. The Wolfpack Burger delivers a solid performance. A simple tasty patty on an old school sesame seed bun. The mustard, slaw, and chili complemented and did not overpower the experience. Even after all these years, the PR still delivers a great burger. I give it a 4.25 this time.

Don: I went with the similarly constructed Pete Burger, consisting of chili, mustard and onions (I have left off the cheese on this list as they left it off my burger). The lack of cheese was a disappointment in the overall occasion as it is rare that I will even consider a burger without it. But to the shocked crowd, I ate and enjoyed it, even collecting a bit of extra chili in my beard for a later trip down memory lane. My rating is 4.0. No cheese really hurt me, though.

After six years, The Players’ Retreat still cut the mustard and earned their Straight Beef Certification.

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Overall rating (including our original ratings): 4.10

#23 out of 67