Restaurant Name: Charcoal's Gourmet Burger Bar
Neighborhood: Irish Channel
Ambiance: Modern Industrial
Name of Burger Ordered: Customized House Beef
Price of Burger(s): $9 + $1 for cheese, $1.50 for grilled onions ($1.50 up-charge for fries, $3 happy hour milkshake)
Size of Burger: 7 oz
Charcoal's Gourmet Burger Bar is the type of true "burger" spot that every city needs. They (for the most part) ONLY serve burgers, but because there are so many specialty burger choices + an extensive build-your-own burger menu, you could come back here over and over again and never eat the same burger twice. Some of the combinations Charcoal's offers sound OUTSTANDING, but because of our mission to try to (generally) standardize the burgers we eat across all the restaurants we rate, we opted for a fairly basic burger (by Charcoal's standards). On top of a menu that goes on for days, they've got a fantastic location on Magazine St., a great outdoor eating area, and plenty of seating for you and all of your friends. While we only rated one burger on this trip, we will certainly be back (and more than once) to try a bunch of other combinations!
Customized House Beef Burger: 7.19
Charcoal offered up a nice brioche bun as its standard bun option. No one LOVED it, but no one hated it either. Brioche by nature can be slightly more dry and flaky than other types of buns, so it didn't hold up as well as we would have liked when manhandled by our hungry crew.
Charcoal's grinds its own meat in-house, so it was no surprise that the patty tasted extremely fresh. However, that was about ALL we tasted. We all agreed that the meat was severely under-seasoned (sad face). It also seemed like they tried almost a bit TOO hard to meet our medium-rare request, as several of the burgers came out grossly under-cooked (pun intended). In particular, one rater's burger was actually chilly to the touch, and the kind of raw that makes a person think twice before taking a bite.
Bun to Meat Ratio: 8.0
We're not sure what the deal is with the "tall + skinny" burger trend, but we don't like it! While it makes for a great social media post, it doesn't make for great eatin', which is obviously what we're most concerned about. Unfortunately, Charcoal's burger fell into this category (ugh, stop the madness!). The bun actually "fit" the burger quite well width-wise (which is why we didn't ding it too hard in this category), but having normal sized mouths, we all struggled with this tall, skinny, towering, monster. Those that tried to handle it whole saw it completely fall apart in their hands, while others didn't even bother and just went the fork/knife route.
Standard Toppings: 7.2
Since we opted for the build-your-own burger, we were faced with a complicated matrix of options that included choices for bun, meat, toppings, premium toppings, cheese, and sauces. It was an exhausting process, and served as proof of the idea that having more choices isn't always better. It took us 3x as long to order our burger as it normally does. Stomachs were growling. Meeters were gettin' hangry. We went back and forth, and then back again trying to decide the right combination of all of the various options. In the end we settled on a beef burger + brioche bun + arugula + tomato + american cheese + caramelized onions. There were a few things that were considered "standard" toppings -- but be prepared to be nickel and dimed for everything else. Cheese -- extra. Caramelized onions -- "premium" topping. You've seen this before. Your burger starts out at $9 (reasonable!), but by the time you customize it to your liking you're suddenly faced with a masterful $15 creation. We still like the idea of an extensive build-your-own menu, but don't think you're getting any kind of deal by going this route.
Whenever we see a restaurant offer CHIPS as the included burger side, we collectively roll our eyes. Look, if you're at a backyard family BBQ, potato chips are an acceptable pairing. But at an actual restaurant? Nope. Suck it up, eat the extra cost, and serve me some french fries. To be fair, Charcoal's DOES offer fries, but they (yep, you guessed it) cost extra. Charcoal's certainly isn't the only place that does this, but it always leaves us wanting more (and by more, I mean fries). To be fair, they did surprise us by offering homemade chips, which are certainly better than straight-outta-Winn Dixie Lay's. So while we liked the homemade chips, we almost certainly would have liked fries more.
The burger left us feeling the way a lot of burgers do. Full, but not satisfied. It was good. But not great. And it lacked the "wow" factor that we're always searching for. The consensus was that the lack of seasoning was the root of the problem, so by addressing that, we think Charcoal's could immediately kick its burger game up a few notches.
Charcoal's struggled here. One rater's burger came out with no cheese and had to be sent back. Most of us felt that our burgers were under-cooked. And one rater's burger may have simply failed to find its way to the grill at all. Given that the place wasn't busy when we visited, we felt this was pretty unacceptable.
Just ok. As mentioned above, the base build-your-own burger starts out very reasonable, but as you begin to pile on the toppings, it quickly leaves the reasonably priced yet high quality burger category, and enters the slightly overpriced but just ok burger realm. You also have to pay extra for fries, so overall, the value we look for wasn't quite there.
While it juuuuust missed the mark in several other categories, service is where Charcoal's really shined. Our waiter, Joseph, was fantastic. Friendly, knowledgeable, patient, and fixed any small mistake quickly. He even accommodated one of our guests by offering us a kid's drink cup, and a baby-friendly grilled chicken order (and cutting up the chicken into small pieces!). This was about as close to red-carpet treatment as you can get. High fives all around.
Charcoal has a lot going for it. Great location, solid seating options, an extensive menu, and awesome happy hour options (DEFINITELY treat yo'self to a milkshake). Most of us left feeling just so-so about the experience, but all agreed we'd give it another shot and probably try one of their specialty burgers (options include bison, venison, antelope, salmon, turkey, elk, kobe, shrimp, and veggie!). It may not be top of our list given all of the outstanding burger options in NOLA (many of which we still haven't visited), but we certainly recommend stopping in, getting adventurous with your order, and judging it for yourself!
Want to see how Charcoal's ranks? Check out the Burger Meet rankings.
Want to see how these rank overall? Check out our RANKINGS.