On a busy stretch of Northwest Expressway, I find the difficulty of getting into Charcoal Oven, 2701 Northwest Expressway, tends to diminish my odds of eating there. Is that fair? I don't know. It's just true.
I was raised to believe that anything difficult is probably not worth doing, which has, you can see, served me well. And when I'm heading southeast on that road, it takes honest-to-goodness effort to turn the car around and get in there.
Would I do it if the food was amazing? Absolutely. For whatever reason, good food is one of the only things for which I am willing to work hard.
Do you know, in order to get seats for two at Nic's Grill at lunch, I will arrive for my massive cheeseburger at 10:45 a.m.? It's true. But that burger will blow your mind.
Charcoal Oven? Well, it's not quite that good. And it's a little pricey.
The cheapest burger you're going to get there is $3 and that's for a kid's burger. $4.19 and up are the full-sized burgers with a wide range of toppings to choose from. A combo meal will easily run you $7 or more.
But pay close attention to your choice — they don't all come with lettuce and tomatoes. In fact, most don't.
Recently, I tried a few different burgers and found that out for myself. First, I got the Theta burger, with a thick, sweet hickory sauce and cheese. That's it. Burger, bun, sauce and cheese.
That might sound like a complaint, but it's not. The Theta is kind of perfect. They really do use charcoal and it comes through in the flavor of the meat. And that smoky flavor pairs perfectly with the hickory sauce. The cheese melts into the whole business. It doesn't look pretty, but it tastes pretty good.
The bacon cheeseburger does have your lettuce and tomatoes and it's closer to a classic burger. I almost feel bad for the bacon here, because the flavor of the smoke dominates the burger. Still, if you eat it while it's hot, it's a treat.
I was less excited by the Santa Fe burger, which tops a burger with roasted chilies and pepperjack cheese and then smears on a “Southwest” sauce. There was a little bite to the burger, but not nearly enough to match up to the meat's flavor. And here I really would have liked the roughage of lettuce, onion and tomato, just to make it feel more complete.
The curly fries are awfully nice, though they need salting. The key — and this is for almost everything on the menu — eat it fast. This is food that does best when it's fresh. The trip back to my house, about 10 minutes away, tends to compromise things.
But if you're out and about and you don't mind paying a little more for your sandwich, Charcoal Oven really does make some tasty burgers. Not blow-you-away amazing, but like a good backyard grilled burger. And that's a flavor I enjoy.