Atmosphere: Nicer than the street marquee suggests.
Hours: 9 a.m. to 9:45 p.m., Monday through Saturday.
Price range: Hamburgers start at $1.15; veal, seafood and Italian dishes are $2.60 to $5.20; steaks are $4.25 to $7.95.
Credit cards: Accepts major cards.
Special facilities: Accessible to patrons in wheelchairs; parking across the street in county parking lot.
My husband, son and I had agreed before we set foot in the place, that if the Charcoal Grill was as heavily lounge and bar and grubby as it appeared from the outside, we wouldn't eat there. With its plainer-than-plain marquee and front window that let outside light fall on a well-stocked bar, the place was not promising.
Once inside we realized we had no need for binding contracts or alternative plans. Charcoal Grill had a neighborly, family ambriance. While hardly upbeat - they hadn't gone in for California-style raw wood walls and mini-jungles of hanging plants - the restaurant was in a separate room from the bar and lounge, was immaculately clean and was cheered by charming prints of farms and farm life, a full-sized wagon wheel and a striking metal sculpture of a farm house.
The menu was also simple and direct. It promised "flame kissed steaks," 25 varieties of hamburgers and several veal, seafood and Italian dishes. The hamburgers started off with a plain one, $1.15, and went on to cucumber relish burger, $1.20: chili burger, $1.65; baked bean burger, $1.85, and top of the line, pizza burger, $2.30. Italian veal cutlet, complete with meat sauce, parmesan cheese, french fried potatoes and cole slaw, was a bargain at $3. The chicken fried Louisiana shrimp was also appealing at $5.20, as were New England clams for $2.80.
We had come to Charcoal Grill, however, to feed our son's appetite for steak. He was leaving for camp the next day and this was, to his mind, the last meal. The menu didn't let him down. He could choose between a T-Bone, $4.25; New York sirloin, $7.50; Kansas City steak, $6.50, or minute steak, $6. We didn't know the difference between the Kansas City and New York cuts and turned to our waitress for help.
She was friendly, accommodating and a girl-next-door type, but she didn't know the differences. She went to the kitchen to check it out and came back with a report: Kansas City was thicker; New York was a strip steak.
Our son opted for a T-Bone on the theory that the other steaks would be too big for him. I ordered New York sirloin on the theory that if the T-Bone wasn't enough for him, he could have some of mine. My husband also had a theory on ordering the Kansas City: He wanted to see just how different it was, and besides, he likes his steak thick.
We started our dinner with half a carafe of wine, $2.50, which was quickly followed by salads that are included in the price of the steak dinner. We were happy with the salads. They were bowls of several varieties of lettuce and thick chunks of tomato.
The bread, which appeared next, was less than terrific, but for those of us on a diet, that can be a plus. Besides, we didn't want to fill up on bread with all that steak being flamed-kissed to order.
The steaks, when they appeared, were somewhat of a surprise. Modest would be one way to describe them; small, another. However, they were very tender, tasty and well-prepared. The Kansas City was short, stubby and comparatively thick; the New York sirloin, thinner but longer, and the T-Bone, the thinnest of all. The french fried onions that came with the Kansas City cut were crisp and delicious. The potatoes were adequate.
We decided that we weren't disappointed in the size of the steaks, that a modest portion left you able to enjoy dessert. Since we knew the upwardly mobile supermarket steak prices, we also figured that Charcoal Grill was keeping its prices down by serving smaller portions. We were all for it. After all, who needs to take home a doggie bag of uneaten steak?
We felt even better about this rationale when our waitress told us that although the pies and cakes were made on the premises, they were home-baked. The choice was dazzling: blueberry pie, apple spice cake, French apple pie with raisins, coconut cream pie, lemon meringue pie, hot fudgsundaes with butter pecan, chocolate or vanilla icecream and cheesecake.
We went with one blueberry pie, 65 cents; one lemon meringue pie, also 65 cents, and one cheesecake, 85 cents. The blueberry pie got the highest family rating, but all the desserts were good.
Our bill, which came to $24.20 for the three of us and included the carafe of wine, coffee, milk, steaks and desserts, was, we thought, a fair price to pay for a steak dinner. Camp food, our son told us, was not going to be like this.
One word of warning. The evening we went to Charcoal Grill was a particularly hot one - the temperature at 7:30 p.m. was still in the high 80s - and the restaurant was quite warm inside. We asked if the air conditioner was on the fritz, but we were told that it wasn't, that it just wasn't that effective on a hot night.