Author: Frank Dunne Jr. | Photographer: Mark Staff Photography
I know what you’re saying: Dumb question. Why not burgers? Who doesn’t love a good burger? Agreed. But I’m trying to tell a story here, so roll with it. Besides, I figure that the more times I make you read the word burger before reaching the end of this article [burger], the more your mouth will be watering and the hungrier you’ll be. At that point you’ll have no choice but to drop this magazine [burger] and run to Charbar Co. to get your fix.
Owner Nick Bergelt has a better answer—two actually—to explain Charbar’s genesis. The first rises out of his experience running a Charleston restaurant with his wife Andrea, now Charbar Co.’s director of operations. “Sundays were our day off. We were running an Asian fusion restaurant, and we ate that every day of the week. So Sundays, we’d go get some awesome beef, freshly ground, and go out on our patio to have our reprieve. We’d do a burger.”
The second, while developing the Charbar Co. concept, Bergelt came across what he describes as a “serendipitous burger picture” posted online by Charles Pejeau, an old friend from Hilton Head Christian Academy, then working as a chef at the Inn at Palmetto Bluff. Bergelt reached out to try to lure Pejeau across the bridge for his Charbar venture. “He has a fine dining background and a lot of unique perspectives on gourmet ingredients, and how that can come together on something that’s palatable at 10 bucks, that’ll really wow people,” Bergelt said. Pejeau agreed and Charbar Co. was off and running.
The first month in business is tough for any restaurant. Charbar Co. was no exception when opening its doors in September 2012. However, winning first place at Hilton Head Burgers & Brews 2012 a month or so later provided a shot in the arm to help get over the startup blues. They won again in 2013 along with Readers’ Choice “Best Burger” Awards in Hilton Head Monthly and The Island Packet, and have been successfully building a strong local following ever since.
Charbar Co. is in the Park Plaza space that used to be Carolina Grill, Tavern on Park and a few other places. There, the Bergelts with Pejeau have created something that’s been missing in those parts. Live music on an outdoor patio bar; interior walls festooned with old vinyl records and other music and pop culture artifacts; upbeat music played loud enough to hear and enjoy without drowning out conversation; and an altogether buoyant, cheerful atmosphere combine to shape the Charbar Co. experience. Walking about the area from Park Plaza Cinema toward Holy Tequila! (the Bergelt’s and Pejeau’s newest venture) and Electric Piano Bar, you sense an aura of vibrancy and fun in the air that all but vanished from Park Plaza almost a decade ago.
Friendly, attentive servers and floor managers work very hard (but make it look easy) to assure an enjoyable experience. Staff members are very well trained, informed, and exude a genuine eagerness to answer your questions. I know. Every restaurant says that about their staff, but trust me. I was there. Heck, even when the place was closed while I awaited Bergelt’s arrival for his interview, everybody who walked by said hello with a smile. And that’s when they were mopping the floors.
Hmmm…I haven’t said burger in a while…
An interesting touch at Charbar Co. is the tablet computers on each table. At present, they serve mainly as a digital menu and entertainment device. “It’s just a supplemental piece,” Bergelt said. “People use them to find out about menu items or play trivia games, and they’re good for parents to keep their kids occupied. We call them ‘connected tables.’”
The menu is remarkably simple with seven “Starters & Salads” and five “Signatures.” From the former, watch out for the Charbar Cheese Fries (seasoned hand cut fries, sharp cheddar, pimento, chives, bacon, and spicy ranch). I say watch out, because there’s more than enough for two on a plate, and you’ll be challenged to stop. The Signatures begin with two signature burgers: the Champ (the one that wins all the awards) and the Charbar Burger, both of which are built around a house-ground, hand-formed beef patty, infused with Charbar Co.’s “secret” seasoning, char-grilled over an open flame, and served on toasted brioche. The distinctions are in the dressings: bacon marmalade, smoky Dijon mustard and dill pickles for the Champ; pickles, lettuce, tomato, onion and fancy sauce (it’s another secret so I can’t tell you what’s in it) for the Charbar Burger.
What’s that? Only two burgers on the menu? Fear not; there are hundreds. You can order the Champ or the Charbar Burger “as is” from the menu or go the “build and create” route and design your own burger from a huge selection of toppings and sauces. Nick, Andrea, and Pejeau all chuckled recalling the challenge they had in perfecting that system. “After the first month, we were thinking, hmm, this was a good idea on paper, but maybe…” Andrea said. Pejeau added, “We’d have a 10-top, 10 people ordering a burger 10 different ways, all different temperatures, six different toppings. It became a challenge to get a workflow down, but once we did, it works great. Now it flows great and people really seem to respond well to it.” A Perfect Portabella sandwich, Chicken BLT and Chicken melt round out the Signatures.
The bar features craft beers on tap, bottled domestics and imports, wines from all around the world, a full selection of spirits, and some cleverly named proprietary cocktails like a Grandma Frozen Screwdriver (you can surely figure out the ingredients) or a Charbar Charcola (spiced rum, Tuaca®, cola).
In the unlikely event that you have room after your burger, try a hand-spun shake like the Double Chocolate or the Grasshopper, or try one of Chef Charles’s signature desserts. By the way, you can order the shakes either virgin or spiked with a shot of Absolut Vanilla.
“Come in here in sandals or come for a date night,” Bergelt said. In short, what you get with Charbar Co. is permission to take a date out for a burger and get credit for a gourmet quality meal and a real night out without blowing up your wallet. Now, put down the magazine and get going.
Charbar Co. is located at 33 Office Park Rd,
Suite 213 Park Plaza, Hilton Head Island.
For more information, call (843) 785-2427 or visit Charbar.co (not com).