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.

The Top 5

This post was originally posted at WRAL Out and About.

The Straight Beef is pleased to announce its Top 5 Triangle-area burgers so far (well, 6, actually—there was a tie for 5th), including excerpts from each review.

Each burger is rated on a scale of 1 to 5; an asterisk denotes a tie.

5. JOHNSON’S (Siler City) Average score: 4.50*

“Do yourself a favor, my friends. Go to Johnson’s soon. Get there early. Get that classic, humble, beautiful, delicious, American, quintessential cheeseburger and wash it down with a Pepsi. Savor the melted Velveeta. Then drive among the pastures and fields along Highway 64. Get yourself one of these 4.5s and live the American dream. I implore you.” (John)

5. BARRY’S CAFÉ (Raleigh) Average score: 4.50*

“Barry’s continues to get it right, with very nice American cheese, very fresh veggies, the very build order required, a very nice and traditional bun, and very nice attention to proportions and assembly to bring all of the very nice flavors together….This is a very, very, VERY good burger, people. Which is why I am resisting any urge to replace the word ‘very’ with ‘Barry,’ which would have been juvenile.” (John)

4. DRAFT (Raleigh) Average score: 4.58

A haiku: The Blazin’ Asian / Draft approaches perfection / Rating four point five (Michael)

3. BUNS (Chapel Hill) Average score: 4.67

“I suspected that the burger would be good, just not this good. Every bite of the exquisite Buns burger was a Dionysian commingling of flavors and juices that rang bells of delight through the hallowed annals of burgiatry, elevating me to a level of burgiatric pleasure seldom imagined. It was, simply, a celebration of life.” (Scott)

2. MOJOE’S (Raleigh) Average score: 4.83

“Wow. Yum. Man, that’s a good burger. Wow. Is this burger amazing, or is it just me? Yum num num. [Sigh.] Whew. Man, there’s just not a lot wrong with this burger. Yum num num. Yum num num num num. This has got to be a five. I mean, if this isn’t a great burger, what is? Yum.” (Scott)

1. CHUCK’S (Raleigh) Average score: 5.00

“Seekers on the path to enlightenment must pursue the Four Noble Truths. It can be very time-consuming. I suggest that those in search of enlightenment simply visit Chuck’s, where four other, easier, noble truths are posted on the menu: (1) half-pound 100% chuck, (2) house ground, (3) flat-top seared, (4) on a potato roll….This burger led this burgiatrist to true enlightenment.” (Michael)

Review #24: Chuck’s (Raleigh, NC)

Scott’s Review: The Spirit Animal (Snooty Beauty)

Chuck’s Cubed:

A Review of Chuck’s Burgers & Freits in Three Vignettes

I: Michael’s Reaction

My wife bounded into the room, telephone extended. “Scott, it’s Michael. He says it’s an emergency.”

“Michael, what’s the matter? Is everyone okay?”

“I just had a burger at Chuck’s—Ashley Christensen’s new place.” The solemnity in his voice moved me to sit down. My wife’s eyes widened as she mouthed oh my God.

“And?”

“We have to get there for an official review as soon as possible.” Michael is a man who knows his burgers, and he wouldn’t make a call like this unless it was vital. “It was a five.”

“You’re joking.”

“Oh my God,” my wife said aloud, now covering her mouth with her hands.

“I kid you not,” Michael continued. “We have to go as soon as possible. What are you doing tomorrow night?”

“What’s the matter?” my wife demanded, still covering her mouth. “Are the kids okay?”

“Michael’s calling for an emergency burger outing,” I said, trying with my eyes to convey the seriousness of it.

My wife dropped her hands, placed them on her hips, and glared at me.

“Yes—as soon as possible,” I said, looking down to avoid seeing how determinedly my wife was shaking her head. “I’ll just need to clear it with my wife first.”

II: John’s Reaction

Of the three of us, the toughest critic is John. Of our 23 previous official reviews, his average rating is 3.60 (Michael’s is 3.79, mine 3.74), with exactly zero 5s. He gave only one 4.75 (to Draft, in downtown Raleigh) and was so moved that he wrote a song, “Almost a Five,” in the burger’s honor. John’s generally the one who can identify a burger’s technical flaws, almost on a molecular level, and it’s usually those flaws we hear about during those initial bites, the poor burger’s rating dropping with every offense. Not that we ever know John’s rating right away; it’s usually when he pens his review that we hear his verdict.

So imagine John’s skepticism upon entering Chuck’s, knowing Michael’s prophecy—the first time that one of us made a ratings prediction—that he was on a one-way flight to Fivetown.

For the first time in TSB history, John was speechless (save for a few approving grunts). For the first time in TSB history, John announced his review right there at the table, during the meal. And for the first time in TSB history, John gave a 5.

III: My Reaction

I won’t spend time trying to explain why the burgers at Chuck’s Burgers & Freits are excellent (descriptions here). Perhaps a mention of the Holy Grail-like achievement of perfect external char and uniform internal pinkness. Perhaps a word about the masterful combination of ingredients that commingled in Beatle-esque harmony, casting interrogation lights on the efforts of impostors, known to pile edibles between buns, seemingly for its own sake.

Rather, I’ll say this:

Though not formally recognized in burgiatric circles as a legitimate determinant in burger criticism, we can often determine the quality of a burger by how much fun we have at the joint, the level of banter and revelry often a fair measure of how content we are in our persnickety choice of once-a-month outings. (In her feature on TSB, Andrea Weigl of The News & Observer called them man dates. Given our sacred obligation to disseminate burger wisdom, we respectfully prefer mandates.)

As it turned out, we so enjoyed our experience at Chuck’s that we weren’t quite willing for it to end. Plus, Ashley Christensen had also just opened another restaurant—Beasley’s Chicken + Honey—right next door (visit all of the renowned chef’s Raleigh digs here)—and, now having absolute faith in Ms. Christensen’s culinary expertise, we did what at least this burgiatrist has never done before in his life: finish dinner in one restaurant, leave said restaurant, relocate immediately to another restaurant, and eat another full dinner. Though I was too full to fully appreciate (or even taste, really) what I hear is Beasley’s delicious fried chicken, I will say that our presence there—the level of banter and revelry still high—spoke volumes for the burgers next door.

Scott’s review: 5 out of 5.

    

Michael’s Review: The Hill + The Valley (Snooty Beauty)

Buddhists on the path to enlightenment must pursue the Four Noble Truths. It can be very time-consuming. I suggest that those in search of enlightenment simply visit Chuck’s, where four other, easier noble truths are posted on the menu:

1.      Half pound 100% chuck

2.      House ground

3.      Flat top seared

4.      On a potato roll

Yea though I walk through the valley of death, as long as I have this burger, I'll be all right.

I have been burned by many a Snooty Beauty (the most rare of Straight Beef categories) in the past. However, The High + The Valley, with its crushed avocado, bacon-onion jam, and “blistered red peppers” was sublime. It was cooked to perfection, and each bite was consistent because of the precise build.

Three ingredients combined atop a burger led this burgiatrist to true enlightenment. I give it a 5 out of 5.

    

John’s Review: Bear in Heaven (Classic Rocks, with Snooty Beauty quality)

(To read with the one you love…)

I love you deeply. More remarkable is that you so love me. This miracle we share—it is that rarest of symmetries that has always been responsible for the brightest lights of human poetic, musical, and visual expression, and the most majestic sensations that flood the heart, whirl the mind, and satiate the body.

How grateful I am to have found you! To know what it’s like to be overcome by you, and to delight in longing to be overcome by you again. I know, and I celebrate, that I will again pull you close to me, and that when you touch my lips I will instantly be awash in a harmony of the sweetest sensations of warmth, dizziness, soul-shuddering pleasure, and a giddy, childlike mirth. My eyes will fall closed, my skin will flush, and my heart will nearly stop for a moment then swell again and resume beating in the deliberate, languid rhythm of love just proved.

Oh, to think of you now is to give in to my passion! The allure of your shape, your beading freshness and firm, youthful texture, your penetrating scent and the musky heat of the steam that rises from your flesh at the height of our passion! I can wait no longer. I HUNGER for you, my love. I must see you again soon. Let’s meet again at our place. At Chuck’s.

5.0

    

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