Char-Grill Heaven

There’s something about writing and including food in a story.  Maybe it’s a way to set your reader down in a scene, or to offer a sense of place.  No matter, food is a component I use a lot in the stories I write.  And of course, since I write Southern Fiction, I talk about southern food, but, I have another influence too.  Mom’s from Maine, so I was exposed to her dishes which have a French heritage.  Dishes like croton, (or, corton, or creton, I’ve seen it spelled different ways) and tourtiere.  Both of these foods are mentioned right along with grits, hushpuppies, and collards in my debut, THE EDUCATION OF DIXIE DUPREE (Kensington, Nov 2016).

Back during my childhood there was this burger place my father took us to frequently – Char-Grill.

I found a couple pictures of the one we used to go to on Hillsborough Street, just a short distance from the Bell Tower of North Carolina State University (go Pack!) and the downtown Raleigh area where local city politicians and students alike are still slapped silly with the smell of grilled beef and the hot grease from the fries being…well, fried.

Char Grill

This building dates back to 1959, and is the original and first Char-Grill.  They take orders the same as back then, write it on a piece of paper and flip through a slot where it finds it way to the short order cook in the back.  By the way, I heard it’s the SAME grill from 1959.   I loved eating here.  I love that it’s a place that still exists from my childhood.

See that smoke coming up from the roof?  You think Burger King hamburgers smell good when you pass that restaurant?  You ought to smell these…

Nick Solares from a site called Serious Eats, offered up this great review.  What was cool was he had a pic (like mine above) only with a different car and a guy on the bench eating his meal.

What I remember..these are the best hamburgers I’d ever eaten.  I’m sure a little of that had to do with the ferocious appetites my brother and I had back then, after riding our bikes, climbing trees, and running around after each other from morning till dusk.  That kind of hunger deserves a steamy hot hamburger wrapped in white paper, with mustard, chili and slaw leaking through.  The first bite followed by the crunch of salty fries, and then all of that washed down with a cold Pepsi that always managed to make my eyes water.

I think we only begin to appreciate the simple things after we get older and worry they could disappear.  Like how on a hot summer evening, my family would pile into the station wagon to go out for supper.  How we’d wind our way up Avent Ferry Road, then down Western Boulevard, take a little jaunt across Pullen Road and then onto Hillsborough Street.  Mom and Dad in the front, pointing out little things to each other, while my brother and I sat in the back, our elbows resting on the back of the front seat.  We’d be so hungry, our bellies gnawed our backbones, and our mouths watered as we waited for the smell of those hamburgers to arrive via our open windows  – usually within a half mile of the place.


Raleigh, NC Char Grill

Char grill milkshake

Char Grill Chocolate Shake

Dad would park and say, “Okay.  What’s everybody want?”

We always got the same things, so he didn’t really need to ask, but he would.  Then he’d come back and we’d sit there in the parking lot with a bunch of other cars and wait for our number to be called.  When that happened, he’d get the bag of food and pass it all out.  For the next few minutes there was only the sound of paper crackling and the pungent smell of food.

Seriously.  What would I call this today? 




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