I’ve cut back on meat recently for health reasons, but every once in a while, I get a ferocious craving for a greasy, juicy disc of ground chuck sandwiched between the fingertips. So naturally, when Chuck’s made its debut during the weekend of Hopscotch Music Festival in early September, I had to make a quick pit stop between shows. Located at 237 South Wilmington Street in downtown Raleigh, next door to the pair of Ashley Christensen’s other establishments, Beasley’s Chicken and Honey and the newly opened Fox Liquor Bar, the new burger restaurant aims to please with simplicity in mind. Take a few steps into the burger joint and you’ll feel like you’ve stepped into a CB2 showroom with its streamlined design, glossy red-hued chairs neatly lined in rows and utility pendant lamps hung from the ceiling. Black cattle heads adorn the brick wall as waggish decor, reiterating to customers that yes, this is indeed the place to get your burger on. Step up to the counter to order and you’ll see that seven varieties of half-pound, in-house ground burgers with playful names like “Spirit Animal” and “Bear in Heaven” take up the bulk of the signature AC restaurant chalkboard menu, all offered at $9 a pop (veggie burger option included). Pomme frites (Belgian fries) are also available with a choice of dipping sauce for $4.
So what’s the verdict on Chuck’s premiere? I tried the The Dirty South, described as topped with smoked pork shoulder, tomato slaw and onions, and it was pretty good. Now full disclosure, I was at Durham’s Bull City Burger and Brewery earlier that day as part of a Durham restaurant tour whereby owner Seth Gross gave the touring foodies an impassioned speech about his belief in the complete farm-to-fork restaurant concept. Chomping down on a Bull City Burger that was completely made in-house with the exception of the Heinz all-natural ketchup was an unworldly experience that may have diminished my Chuck’s Dirty South burger experience.
Regardless, The Dirty South was what a good burger should be–structurally sound with each bite, juicy on the inside, with a nice crust on the edge and sizable heft. The pork topping made the burger a bit salty for my preferences but the flavor was robust and intense. And if the burger was the headliner, the Belgian fries feature act did a fine job as well taming my burger and fries cravings. The Belgian fries came out crispy and hot and the roasted garlic aioli was serviceable. Again, my opinion was probably a bit tainted since I had just eaten at the famous New York City’s friterie Pomme Frites two weeks prior and was still fantasizing about its coned pomme frites drenched in a Vietnamese Pineapple Mayo dipping sauce. If there’s one suggestion I could give to Chuck’s, it might just be to add a few more mayo-inspired dipping sauces to the aioli choices.
Overall, I thought Chuck’s was good, specifically somewhere between good and excellent. I’ve heard several gripes about Chuck’s already, claiming that a burger and fries shouldn’t cost $13 (before tax). Is it on the expensive side? Yes, but the quality and type of ingredients and level of preparation is obviously elevated compared to a Five Guys’ burger. The Raleigh Times burger around the corner costs $8 and elsewhere around downtown at other burger establishments like Draft, a hamburger will set you back $10. Even at old standby Player’s Retreat, the burger starts at $7. Over in Durham, a Bull City Burger that’s made completely in-house with North Carolina raised, antibiotic-free beef (including the bun) starts at the $6 price-point and with substantial toppings probably ends up totaling around $10. So, Chuck’s is batting about average cost-wise with other burger players around town. Ultimately though, the customer will have to decide if a burger like the “Spirit Animal” slathered with cream cheese, poblano chilis and tortilla dust is worth the $9 price tag. I have a feeling that Chuck’s might be around for a while.
237 South Wilmington Street
Raleigh, NC 27601
Monday-Wednesday and Sunday: 11:30am-10pm