“Turn left onto Kedron Avenue,” says the GPS lady. She has led me north on I-95, onto the Blue Route, quickly off at the first exit onto MacDade Boulevard, East, and now, after about two miles, onto Kedron Avenue. And there it is. A small, white building, no bigger than it was 60 years ago, sitting optimistically in the middle of a huge parking lot, and the sign almost as big as the place itself, “Charlie’s Hamburgers.” A different location, but the style the same.
“You have arrived,” says the GPS lady. Yes, I have.
In an old blog posting, I talked about Charlie’s Hamburgers, the famous hamburger place from our high school days (see Charlie’s Burgers, Nov. 22, 2010). This was before the explosion of fast-food chains, and we ate out on the weekends with our friends mostly at diners and family-run burger joints. The hands-down best was Charlie’s, just off of Baltimore Pike in Springfield. Almost all of us had been there at least once before graduation and still crave the taste 60 years later. (You really need to read that old posting to get the full story.) Today, I live within walking distance of a similar idea on Concord Pike, but executed better, The Charcoal Pit. Joe Biden occasionally takes visitors there.
Then Charlie’s was gone, replaced by a fancy auto dealership. I thought gone forever, but was surprised to learn they are still in business after all these years in a different location off of MacDade Boulevard. Their address says they are in Folsom, but that is Ridley Park to me. I promised in the November posting to search it out and report back. It took a while (okay, several years), but here it is.
The hamburgers are still terrific, although now they seem expensive compared to McDonald’s and the others. (The initial magic of fast food was not the speed, but to produce decent food so cheaply.) Charlie’s burgers are $3, about the diameter of a Big Mac, but not even half as high with only one patty. I ordered two. Trying to be objective, I think the freshly cooked patty does taste better, but the condiments are what makes it special. I got them with the standard ketchup, relish, pickles, and onions, but these were more tangy than the grocery-store brands. At least, that is my plebeian impression.
But the real treat was the black-and-white shake (vanilla ice cream with chocolate syrup), a dietary standard in our high school days. I had forgotten how good a real ice cream milkshake was, nothing like today’s gummy concoctions of semi-frozen, sweetened milk solids extruded out of a noisy machine, like . . . like . . . oh, never mind. Some would find the real thing too sweet, but if that is a problem for you, you shouldn’t be ordering a milkshake in the first place. And it is handy getting your whole week’s allotment of calories in just one container.
Before I left, I turned around, and there was this same narrow, wood-board counter along the front bank of windows with scattered stools, just like I remembered from their Springfield location. (The unknown guy said he did not mind being in the photo. He misinterpreted my polite suggestion that he move.)
I missed the packed crowds at their old place, but time has its price, and I was there a little after 11 in the morning and alone, not on a Saturday night with a car full of friends and adventure on our minds. They asked if I wanted to eat in or take-out. Take-out, of course. I had never eaten a Charlie’s hamburger anywhere but sitting in a car in their parking lot, and I wanted the entire experience to be authentic. They gave me the milkshake in a cardboard container, but if I ate in, they would have served it as we all remember—a filled glass with the remainder in the stainless-steel blending cup.
Maybe next time.