Quick casual. It’s not a style of dressing or a loose approach to dating. It is the catchy new buzzword for a growing niche in the restaurant industry, a merger between fast food and full service. If you want to experience the concept in action, check out the new Cheeseburger Charley’s on 21st Avenue South.
If you could care less about restaurant trends, you still have plenty of other reasons to visit Cheeseburger Charley’s: There’s the pleasant atmosphere, the quality food, the healthy options, the efficient service, and the reasonable prices. And there’s Charles Watkins Jr.
Charles Watkins Jr.or “Chuck,” as he likes to be calledowns Cheeseburger Charley’s. You may have known Chuck’s dad, Charles Watkins Sr.or “Charley,” as he is known. Besides winning the soap box derby several decades ago, fighting in World War II, and inventing the disposable toothbrush, Charley Watkins was the founder of O’Charley’s restaurants. His achievements are chronicled in old newspaper clips, framed and displayed on the walls of Cheeseburger Charley’s.
The original O’Charley’s, which opened in 1968 as one of Nashville’s first fern bars, became immensely popular. Charley Watkins sold it in 1980, and it spawned a successful regional chain. The site of the first O’Charley’s, now occupied by Boston Market, is just one block from Cheeseburger Charley’s, but the ghost of the landmark restaurant still casts a long shadow.
“I’ve been in the food business all my life,” says Chuck Watkins. “With Cheeseburger Charley’s, I wanted people to recognize a name, and to put a face behind a name.”
While paying homage to his father’s accomplishments, Chuck has also modernized Charley’s concepts to provide a fast-food alternative for people who are diet-conscious, people who are eating on the run but still want to eat healthy. And you can do both at Cheeseburger Charley’s.
The cheeseburgers ($3.49 for six ounces, $2.69 for four) are handpatted and grilled over charcoal. Then they’re slapped on a big whole-wheat bun and delivered to the pickup counter. While you’re waitingand the wait won’t be longyou can check out the photos and memorabilia on the walls of the black, white, and chrome dining room, which evokes memories of a very streamlined diner/soda shop of the ’60s.
The beefalo burger ($3.99) apparently gets the same grilling treatment. However, it wasn’t available on the day of our visit, for reasonswe were toldof popularity and limited availability. According to Chuck, beefalo (the result of interbreeding buffalo and cattle), is lower in fat than your regulation cow and has a bit of a wild flavor.
The hand-patted turkey burger ($3.59) is distinguished from others by virtue of its all-white ground turkey meat. It bore a close resemblance to Cheeseburger Charley’s grilled chicken sandwicha plump, juicy breast on a bun ($3.99)rather than a traditional burger. It was a tad drier than a turkey burger made with dark meat and filler.
For the diet-conscious diner, Cheeseburger Charley’s offers garden, vegetable, and black bean burgers. The first two are difficult to tell apart, although the garden burger logs in at 130 calories and 3 grams of fat, while the veggie burger contains 150 calories and 3.5 fat grams. If you’re really watching your fat intake but want to be compensated with palate-pleasing taste, go for the black bean burger, which packs 120 calories, 1.5 grams of fat, and a big flavor punch. Each of the meatless burgers is thoughtfully accompanied by a side cup of congealed fruit salad.
Once you get your burger, you’ll want to do it your way. The traditional condiments are offered, along with a choice of mustards and hot sauce and green tabasco sauce. At the produce bar, you’ll find iceberg and green leaf lettuce, sliced tomatoes, red or white onions, sprouts, kosher and dill pickle chips, salsa, sliced pepperoncini, and jalapeños.
We were all wild for the french fries, serious contenders as the best in town. I was assured that they are hand-cut every morning, soaked in water to remove the starch, then blanched and refrigerated before being cooked to order. Three baskets ($2.19 eachsingle-person orders are $1.19) went in no time flat. I figured I had been so virtuous with my garden burger that a few fat grams for a good cause wouldn’t kill me.
Salads (side, house, grilled chicken, and chef) are made up daily, and they’re not sprayed with that yucky preservative stuff that prevents long-term brownage but also sucks the very life out of greens.
The beverage cart offers soft drinks, or you can indulge in a hand-dipped shake ($2.39if you don’t want whipped cream on top, tell them first). Our strawberry fruit smoothie ($1.09) wasn’t quite as smooth as it should have been, but it tasted swell. Beer is available.
Tab for seven for lunch was $50.63. We dined on the patio and were in and out in less than an hour.
Cheeseburger Charley’s is located at 400 21st Ave. S. (327-0220). Open 10:30 a.m.-9 p.m. Mon.-Thu.; 10:30 a.m.-10 p.m. Fri. & Sat.; noon-8 p.m. Sunday. Cash or checks accepted for the next few weeks. A second Cheeseburger Charley’s is located in The Mall at Green Hills.
Un Eté du Vin, the American Cancer Society’s oft-mispronounced benefit wine auction, goes down under this year. The 1997 event will celebrate the wines of Australia, in particular the increasingly popular and high-rated vintages of Lindemans, Penfolds, and Seaview Wines. Honored guest will be Patrick Auld, senior winemaker for Lindemans’ Hunter River Winery. The black-tie dinner and auction takes place Saturday, July 26, at Opryland Hotel. The evening includes a walk-around wine tasting and a silent auction from 6-8 p.m., followed by a seated dinner and the much-vaunted live auction. 1997’s Un Eté du Vin will feature unique and distinguished wine lots, including a 15-liter bottle of cabernet donated by Steltzner Vinyard and some ab-fab trips. Among the highlights this year will be a grand format vertical tasting of Chateau LaTour spanning the years 1892-1990.
Tickets are $200 each and can be reserved by calling Jan Anderson at the American Cancer Society (327-0991).
Another name sure to be mangled in regional Southernese is that of “Seanachie,” the new Irish pub opening Aug. 8 at the corner of Fourth Avenue South and Broadway (formerly the home of Cowboys La Cage). According to Mike Doherty, one of the pub owners and project directors, “Seanachie” means “storyteller” in Gaelic. Doherty says the restaurant and bar will attempt to reconstruct the look, feel, tastes, and smells of a genuine Irish pub. Irish craftsmen have been flown in to create a pub front with hand-carved signs and gilded gold-leaf lettering that will blend with the historic feel of downtown Nashville. (What a concept.) Matt Malloy, of the internationally acclaimed Chieftains, designed the stage area, where Irish musicians will perform. By the way, in 1996 Newsweek honored Doherty and partner Clayton Parker for running the best bar in AsiaDelaney’s in Kowloon, Hong Kong.