- Matthew Schniper
- Charlie's barbecue acts saucy in the wrong kind of way.
At the very least, Charlie's Pit BBQ earns the award for most convoluted history. You may remember it from Fillmore Street. Or Manitou Springs. Or Fillmore Street, again.
I'm not talking about multiple restaurants, but one that Charlie Martin brought from Oklahoma in the late '80s and moved around town several times. Amy Simmons bought it from him a few years ago, only to close it down in October 2014 due to a fire started by a malfunctioning smoker. She just reopened this October, and continues to blend Martin's menu with the yakitori that's endured since this spot was Yakibob's (a totally different business) years ago.
So you can have smoke or skewers, not because Charlie's does either particularly well, but because a fusion of convenience and circumstance continues to drive business along the blue-collar corridor.
As a co-diner nicely summed it up, Charlie's executes with a semi-homemade model that recalls someone prepping for a backyard barbecue. Tri-compartment plates arrive with their rims unwiped, and with mostly toasted half-hotdog buns placed this way or that. Several side items are barely dolled up from how they fell out of their cans. Almost everything feels like an afterthought beyond the hickory-smoked proteins and "world famous" barbecue sauce.
Now, firstly, the empty and scurrilous phrase "world famous" needs to die an ugly death across all middling menus everywhere, especially if items like Vienna's Sacher-Torte or New Orleans' Café Du Monde beignets shall retain deserved dignity. Secondly, this barbecue sauce rates largely repugnant, with tangy ketchup notes giving way to cloying sweetness. Some had clearly caramelized in the pot's bottom on one recent day, leaving a sticky candy finish.
The meats do their best to impart wood essence, but only the ribs and brisket shine through. Both are well handled texturally, the ribs in particular with a big bark and a touch of chew, plus softened cartilage for primal fat bites. The brisket's flavor finds the strongest footing — I would purchase pounds to sauce myself at home.
But the chicken is cooked through to the core, as dry as the limp french fries are curly. Slices of Sara's Sausage hold a soft gumminess, which could be an error on the production end if not the service end, though the Palmer Lake products are typically good. The pulled pork is oddly insipid, plenty tenderized but holding no smoke.
Best bets for sides are the crisp slaw, thankfully mayo-less, and homely potato salad, both of which could use more seasoning. The house bottom-batter cobbler à la mode makes for a modest treat with generic ice cream and fruit filling but a charming, spongy, cinnamon-sugar pastry component.
On the yakitori side, the chicken again is pretty dry and unexciting, scantly seared, and the soy sauce runs syrup-thick off the fork while leaving behind a stringy pulled-sugar webbing. A Thai chili sauce option is just Mae Ploy from the bottle.
Meanwhile, boneless hot wings are worse than most dive bar renditions. Side steamed veggies have zero seasoning or tooth. Your best bet here is the spicy beef bowl, because it's sourced from the house brisket.
I'm left with the image of Charlie's soda-pump rack, completely visible in one dining room corner, all the concentrated corn syrup boxes stacked but for two removed bladders sagging half onto the floor, in violation of health code. It's the little things that say everything.