I've written about the Charcoal Grill once before (see that entry here), but it had to do with having the surprisingly good pizza rather than having anything grilled during that visit. I've had their burgers before at Summerfest, but have never tried one inside one of their eight locations throughout Southeastern Wisconsin. I happened to be driving by the Racine West location recently just after the noon hour and decided to double back and go have a burger. (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 that restaurant into the original 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 Racine West location looks like it was formerly a Mexican restaurant - quite possibly a Chi Chi's - with sort of a Spanish mission theme to the outside architecture of the place. That seems to be the "m.o." for Charcoal Grill restaurants - find existing restaurants that have gone out of business and transform them into a new location. It makes perfect business sense and there's little remodeling that you have to do to get a new restaurant up and running.
The interior of the Charcoal Grill on the west side of Racine is open and airy, and has a distinctive sports bar theme to the place. There's a large bar area with sort of an atrium feel to the left as you walk in. With a lot of windows throughout the restaurant, you didn't need much lighting during the daytime, even on a cloudy day.
Toward the back of the restaurant is their wood-fire oven for cooking pizzas and their rotisserie for Charcoal Grill's somewhat famous chicken. The pizza prep area is out in the open and you can easily watch the pizza chefs prepare the pizzas and cook them in the oven. As I said in my earlier post on the Charcoal Grill location on the west side of Milwaukee, their pizza is surprisingly good.
I took a seat at the large, rectangular bar and was given a menu by the bartender. They had a number of burgers to choose from on the menu including buffalo burgers, turkey burgers, a new burger called the "Crabby Louie" that features crab meat and avocado on top, a "Black and Bleu" burger with Cajun spices, crumbled bleu cheese and bacon, and their famous Wisconsin Cheddarhead burger with ample amounts of cheddar cheese on top of a burger served on an English muffin. They also have a breakfast burger called the "Egg-licious". It's a burger topped with American cheese, bacon, a fried egg and served on an English muffin, as well. That almost made me jump out of my seat.
But I've been on kind of a mushroom-Swiss cheeseburger kick lately and I decided to give Charcoal Grill's version a try. I had my choice of either waffle fries, kettle chips or onion straws to go along with it. I opted for the onion straws - I'm a sucker for good onion straws.
And they didn't hold back on the number of onion straws they brought out with the burger. The burger, itself, was nestled on an egg bun that was slightly toasted. A fresh sliced onion and a number of kosher dill pickle slices were hiding the cheese and mushrooms. There's a "fixin's" bar at Charcoal Grill where you can add a few more things like tomatoes, lettuce and jalapenos, but nothing looked that great as to where I wanted to add it to the burger.
The 1/2 pound patty was cooked medium and it was still juicy and flavorful. Very good, as a matter of fact. The mushrooms tasted good and the Swiss cheese was a nice complement, but didn't overpower the taste of the burger. As I said, I've had the Charcoal Grill burger at Summerfest in the past and I didn't think it was all that great. They seem to overcook them at Summerfest, then let the burgers sit in a tray until they're ordered up. This one, however, was nothing like the ones at Summerfest. It pleasantly surprised me as to the overall taste of their burger.
OK, so I know now to just skip the Charcoal Grill burger at Summerfest (I like Major Goolsby's much better, anyhow) and that I can get a good burger at one of their locations in the Milwaukee, Racine, Kenosha area. I can't call it one of the best burgers in the great Milwaukee area, but they can hold their own against some of the more established and well-known places in the area. It's very good if you're in a pinch and need to get an above-average burger if you're close to one in Southeast Wisconsin.