The Charcoal Grill and Rotisserie is a nine location chain restaurant that specializes in cooking food in ovens and on grills over charcoal. They also have a presence at the annual Summerfest music festival, as well as at the Wisconsin State Fair. The restaurant specializes in burgers, ribs, rotisserie chicken, steaks, some seafood and a number of sandwiches. Surprisingly, they also do a pretty good pizza at The Charcoal Grill. I was in Milwaukee a few weeks ago and decided to give The Charcoal Grill in suburban New Berlin a try (see map).
The origins of The Charcoal Grill go back to the early 90's in Racine. Dr. Constantine George, a local orthopedic surgeon, owned a restaurant in Racine that wasn't doing well. He brought in a friend of his son, Jeff Marsh, to try and turn things around. Marsh, who had a degree in hotel and restaurant management, took over the restaurant but was sort of floundering until one day he came up with a concept to change the restaurant into one that featured food that was cooked over charcoal. "It seemed like everyone in Racine had a Weber Grill," Marsh explained. To him, it seemed like a natural fit to transform the restaurant into a new concept.
Marsh turned the restaurant into the Charcoal Grill restaurant in 1993. The concept immediately took off and a year later a second Charcoal Grill restaurant was opened in Kenosha. In 1995, Marsh's longtime friend, and the son of Dr. George, Paul George, came into the company. Paul George was developing a chain of vision clinics across the state of Wisconsin and took over the George family's stake in the company with the death of Dr. George in 1996. In addition to running Wisconsin Vision, Paul George is the CEO of Char Grill, Inc., with Jeff Marsh serving as President.
The New Berlin location has been a Charcoal Grill since 2003. In 2000, Char Grill, Inc. purchased what was the old Zarder's restaurant at that location and turned it into a new fine dining concept, Timber Creek Grille. The menu was categorized as "creative American cuisine" and featured wild game such as elk, buffalo, game birds and fish. The restaurant never caught on and it was subsequently transformed into a Charcoal Grill after three years. The New Berlin location also features a large banquet and catering facility.
Actually, when I went to Charcoal Grill that evening, I wasn't looking to get a pizza. I'd had their burgers before at Summerfest and they were "OK". I sort of like Major Goolsby's chargrilled burgers at Summerfest better. At the Charcoal Grill restaurant, they have a "fixin's bar" for the 14 burgers they feature on their menu where you can customize your toppings on your burger. It was tempting, but I decided to look through the full menu before making up my mind.
The ribs looked interesting, and I thought a nice rib-eye steak cooked over charcoal would be good, but my mind kept wandering back to the pizzasthey had on the menu. While they called their pizza "woodstone" pizza, I'm guessing they were cooked over charcoal in a stone oven.
I was seated at the bar in what was a large bar area that had a number of televisions on the walls and behind the bar. I asked the very busy bartender (he and a waitress were the only ones working in the somewhat crowded bar and outdoor patio area) about the pizza. He said, "You know, I only work here a couple nights a week through the week. I've had the pizza a couple times here and it's good. Actually, surprisingly good. I like the Spicy Thai Chicken pizza."
Well, I wasn't going to get the Spicy Thai Chicken pizza, that's for sure. Although they did have a number of eclectic pizzas, I decided to go with my reference Italian Sausage, Pepperoni and Mushroom in their 8" small size. I also got a small house salad to tide me over until the pizza came out.
I had just finished my salad when the bartender brought the pizza to the table. From my first bite, I was surprised - pleasantly surprised. The toppings were plentiful, they had the big chunks of sausage on the pizza just as I like. And the crust was light, thin and crispy, but not burnt. The sauce was tangy, but not too sweet like you can get sometimes on some pizzas. The bartender came back a little later and said, "So, what do you think?"
I said, "Like you say. Surprisingly, it's very good!"
He said, "Isn't it? I wouldn't think that a place like this would have good pizza." He told me that he was partial to their burgers, as well. I told him I'd have to come back and try one at some point.
While the name The Charcoal Grill doesn't conjure up a pizza place in one's mind, I have to say the restaurant acquitted itself very well with their pizza. I can't really comment on the other things on their menu - especially since I've only had one or two of their burgers at Summerfest in the past. But the rest of the food must be pretty good or they wouldn't have nine locations and been in business for over 16 years. I'm going to try the burger the next time I'm in.
(Update - I have gone back to various Charcoal Grill locations in SE Wisconsin to try a burger. Read about one of those visits here.)
(Update II - This Charcoal Grill location is now closed, but the others remain open.)