I am not the first person to chronicle the definitive sweep that Ashley Christensen’s food establishments have made throughout downtown Raleigh, nor will I be the last. This does not, however, keep me from pretending that I am a loyal and self-appointed ambassador of the brand, specifically Chuck’s, as I eat my way through the menu and rave to anyone who will listen. This place belongs on blogs everywhere, from the minimalist, old school butcher boutique-y decor (you’d think this isn’t possible but it is) to a menu that is just big enough to make you feel like you have options, yet small enough that you’re worried about what might happen after you’ve tried them all (which you’ll want to).
We in the South undoubtedly live in an all-inclusive food culture: your two eggs for breakfast come with bacon or sausage, homefries or grits, and biscuits seem to never entirely disappear from the table. These breakfasts are the choose-your-own adventure of food… everyone at the table can order the same meal without ever settling on the exact combination as the next person. Most AC restaurants do not follow this tradition of “all entrees include,” which can be initially disappointing but clearly does not seem to bother fans of bacon-onion jam on a Chuck’s burger or a plate of Beasley’s chicken and waffles.
At first glance, the menu seems a bit bizarre highlighting toppings like hazelnut vinaigrette, tortilla dust, bacon-onion jam, and banyuls aioli. Seven signature burgers can be ordered in the full house-ground, half pound size with a 5 ounce “little Chuck” suitable for smaller appetites. “The Dirty South” comes exactly how it sounds: unforgivably messy and infused with Southern staples like crispy onion, Ashe County cheddar, and smoked pork shoulder chili. From a more classic perspective, “The Big House” drips with thyme-caramelized shallots and Tennessee sorghum-dijon that adds just the right amount of bite. Every burger is cooked on a flat top grill to their version of medium-well (more pink than what you may expect, unless otherwise ordered) and I have yet to find an option I didn’t care for now that I’m through half of the menu. And the Belgian fries? One half pound with aoilis and sauces enough to convince you that not all fried potatoes are created equal. Try the malt vinegar aioli or the sweet chili sauce and try to stop after just a couple.