Boudin is a Cajun sausage cooked in countless roadside diners in Louisiana that is said to be eaten mostly in parking lots. People buy it to take home, but it is so good, and the hot aroma so intoxicating, that that is as far as they get. I know the feeling. In our day, we had Charlie’s hamburgers.
Surely, surely, if you lived anywhere in the western suburbs of Philadelphia in the 1950s, you must have had at least one hamburger at Charlie’s. You would have gone there with your high school friends. It was more like a beach hangout than a family place.
Charlie’s was on Baltimore Pike at the intersection of Springfield Road. Well, not exactly at the intersection. It was one property north on Springfield Road, but still clearly visible from Baltimore Pike. The old Springfield Pool used to be on the corner, but that had long been replaced by a car dealership.
I remember Charlie’s as sort of a crude diner with a large parking lot beside it. They must have had their slow times, but I never saw it. Every time I was there, people were lined up, pushing to get in while people inside were pushing to get out. It seemed hopelessly crowded, but we knew not to give up. They had several young guys feverishly working the grills, and one would unexpectedly call out for your order even before you got in the door. By the time you worked your way to the counter your order would be ready, you paid, and turned to work your way out again. I don’t remember them selling anything but burgers, and they were the best I had before or since. Whatever their secret was, it drew people from all over the area. Most were picking up orders of several to take home.
They were also known for their milk shakes, blended from scoops of real ice cream. A glass was filled with the shake, and the remainder, almost as much, left in the metal can to pour yourself. This was the way milk shakes were made and served everywhere, but a black-and-white at Charlie’s was special.
They did have an eating counter, as I remember, which was just a long board along the windows with stools scattered along it. There was certainly no waitress service—it was just a place to sit and eat out of your bag, rather than in your car where you were liable to dribble mustard on the upholstery. It was fun to eat there. You could watch the traffic on Baltimore Pike, see the customers coming in, and be jostled by people trying to get out. Despite the crowds, seats were usually available. Most orders were takeout and those who did eat there only took a minute or two. The sense of rush was infectious.
I mentioned Charlie’s to our community center receptionist (LAHS, 1959), and she swooned at the mere memory. I mentioned Charlie’s to my daughter-in-law from Ridley Park, and not only does she remember it, it is still very much alive and well. She knows where on MacDade Boulevard it moved to after it burned down on Baltimore Pike, and she says it is still just as good. Sure enough, I Googled “charlie’s hamburgers folsom,” and their website popped right up. She suggests next time the family is up our way, we should all meet there with her parents. I’m all for it.
Fortunately, for the forty-some years I lived in Wilmington, I have been within walking distance of a place almost as good as Charlie’s, called the Charcoal Pit. It is more refined with actual tables and middle aged waitresses who call you “Hon,” although a separate takeout area is also busy. Like Charlie’s, it dates from the fifties, and they have thankfully kept the original décor. It, too, is popular and relies on burgers that are far more delicious than anything in a fast-food place. Many menu items are named for the local high schools. Often, when walking along Concord Pike late at night, traffic is light, fast-food places are closed or deserted, but business is booming at the Charcoal Pit. Cars stream in and out of the parking lot, and I can see the good times inside through the large windows.
As soon as I get to Charlie’s I’ll report back on the comparison.