My first visit to The Charcoal Grill was before they moved to their new location. It was kind of lonely in there, and nobody seemed interested in their one customer. But I went ahead and had a shredded pork sandwich and liked it. It was not smoked, but it was still good. They don't claim that it's smoked, and as a former BBQ restaurant owner myself, I am sensitive to these things. There are all sorts of ways to cook meat slowly, and the people at The Charcoal Grill are careful to point out that their kitchen is grill-centered. So all is well.
My recent visits to the new location (where Zorba's used to be in the Food Lion shopping center) were completely different. The place was bustling, upbeat, music was playing, and the owners and staff were only too happy to chat and be friendly. They must have really hated the old place. At the old digs, I remembered owner and cook Wendy Adams as the frowning proprietor -- but in their bright new spot she was chattin' everybody up with a big smile. The stage was set for a good meal. Would the food match the new attitude?
The answer is largely yes. The appetizer menu is inviting, populated with some of the typical frozen selections (it's all in the preparation!) plus some good house-made items and a few surprises. We started with the Fried Asparagus [pictured, right]. It was perfectly prepared, with a nice crunchy coating on a still-crunchy spear. But it could have used more seasoning. I've had this dish elsewhere (and make it myself). The addition of a bit of dried/ground garlic, a little pepper and some grated parmesan can elevate it to new levels. Wendy...are you up for it? Give it a try. I promise people will love it even more. I had the same experience with the Buffalo Shrimp Tempura appetizer [pictured, left]. Texturally perfect, with a mild but flavorful sauce. But the tempura batter tasted of the flour rather than spices. Again, perhaps a dash of the buffalo sauce in the batter, or even a touch of Old Bay would kick these little morsels up a notch or two.
The Jalapeno Cornbread [pictured, right] was delicious. It was more the traditional cornbread, slightly cake-like and firm, without all the cheese and stuff people add nowadays (not that there's anything wrong with that...). It worked perfectly with the meal and I would get it again in a second. The pit beef quesadilla [pictured, left] is quite possibly the star of the appetizer menu. Sauteed onions, lots of nice spices and lean, shredded beef make it one of the best things at The Charcoal Grill. Do get it!
The Wings [pictured, right] bear some explanation, in that they are served relatively dry. I personally like that, because I like the skin crispy. The heat and taste is imparted by a rub (rather than a sauce). Of course, you can douse the wings with hot sauce at the table, but I like the firm crunch of the wing; a refreshing departure from the standard sauce/butter coating. Of course celery and blue cheese dressing accompany. Another tasty little appetizer is the Fried Pickle Chips [pictured, left]. Though these are a frozen product, I've never seen the chip (rather than spear) version. Little crispy coins of pickley goodness are served with a Ranch dressing that's been kicked up with chipotle spices. It works very nicely with the pickles, and for around $6, the portion is quite generous.
It was hard to turn down the soup du jour. Ham and White Bean Soup [pictured, right] was the perfect foil for the cool night. It is entirely house made, and chock full of ham and white beans. It's not too thick, and not at all floury. The ham stood up to the generously spiced dish. In a bigger bowl, it could easily be a main course along with the accompanying cornbread.
Speaking of main courses, the Pit Beef is the star of the show. Some of you of the Baltimorean persuasion might remember The Canopy restaurant in Ellicott City. In its day, The Canopy was the king of pit beef, hands down. The beef at Charcoal Grill stands up to it 100%. I will remind you that this is not smoked, but it is certainly slow cooked and expertly spiced. It reminds me of Ocean City's Bull on the Beach when their beef used to be fresh, juicy and delicious (sadly, not any more -- don't bother). If you like the slightly charred taste but moist, medium to medium well beef, sliced thin the way it's supposed to be, you should get yourself over to the Food Lion Shopping Center post haste. I love it with horseradish. The more the better. The Pit Beef sandwich is pictured, left. It is also available open faced (on sourdough, yet, with gravy), as a platter, and as part of a 3-way sampler.
I recently took a local restaurant to task because the menu touted authentic Memphis-style BBQ pork, but they had no smoker. That restaurant's pork was rather dry and virtually tasteless, devoid not only of hickory sweetness, but also any serious seasoning. (I learned later that I hurt the head chef's feelings, and for that I'm sorry. He's a super guy and very talented. They have since acquired a smoker and I can't wait to go back!)
Charcoal Grill has no smoker, but Wendy Adams sure knows how to spice her slow-cooked pork. Rather than being dominated by a tomato base and fake hickory seasonings, Charcoal Grill's pork sandwich [pictured, right] leans more in a Kansas City direction, redolent of a little cumin, perhaps even a dash of chili powder, and a hint of vinegar. The taste jumps out at you and makes you think of ordering another one. Don't be a wimp: Order it as the "Southern Pork," which simply means that the mountain of savory pig teetering on a kaiser is topped with about a pound of cool and crunchy cole slaw. A selection of sides accompanies. (Get the mac & cheese -- simple and creamy. Sadly, my photo of the M&C didn't come out like I thought it would. Sometimes even Photoshop can't bring a failed photo back from the grave.)
The Baby Back ribs are served either wet or dry. Dry Ribs [pictured, left] are just that: A spice rub is applied, and the meat is cooked to a crunchy goodness, sans sauce. Very popular in Texas, by the way, especially with beef ribs. Though I appreciate dry ribs, I personally like mine wet [pictured, right]; still rubbed, but roasted -- or smoked -- while occasionally being sauced. Often, in a restaurant situation, all the ribs start out dry, and the wet ones are sauced and quickly seared over a flame before serving. I'm fine with that -- just so they don't forget the searing part.
The Baby Backs at Charcoal Grill are meaty, with a nice caramelized crust over the top. Not too soft (overcooked), but still easily removable from the bone (properly cooked). Like ribs? Give these a try. Ribs are expensive to buy nowadays, but Wendy's prices are pretty much in line with everybody else.
As of this writing, Thursday is burger night. An 8 oz. Angus Burger is char-grilled to a nice dark crunch on the outside, and then paired with just about anything your little heart desires. I believe that bacon, extra pickles and some blue cheese are necessary ingredients for the proper burger [pictured, left]. Big ol' crunchy potato wedges (think steak fries with personality) accompany.
Another special that's worth mentioning is the entirely house-made Chicken Pot Pie [pictured, above right]. It arrives with a cute little salad. The filling was creamy and delicious, and not overly salty as so many pot pie fillings are. If you're not into burgers or BBQ, this is a must-get.
On our most recent visit, we decided that the S'mores dessert (you cook 'em at the table over a little iron grill) would make for a wonderful photo. Unfortunately, there was some sort of snafu in the kitchen and after about 10 minutes and a bit of a behind-the-scenes ruckus, we were informed that they were out of the Graham Cracker component. Oh well, we were having a great time talking to the bartender and really didn't have any place to go, so all was forgiven. But it really would have made a nice photo.
Charcoal Grill is at 19287 Miller Road in Rehoboth Beach and is open in-season 11-9 weekdays and for breakfast on Saturdays and Sundays (check out the eggs Benedict, pictured above left].
They are closed on Tuesdays in the off-season, but their hours do change suddenly. So be sure to check the off-season list for the latest info. and you can always call to make sure (302) 260-9615. Take a look at the menu here, and note that they run a lot of specials, including off-menu appetizers on burger night. So enter with an open mind. (That's how we discovered that pit beef quesadilla.)
(B. (weekends), L., D., Bar). Price range: Moderate -.