Last Friday night, my boyfriend and I went to see a Bollywood flick in Volunteer Park, and after being disappointed with the movie (no singing and dancing?!) we left early to find some food. For only being 11:30 PM on a Friday night, there are surprisingly few places that still sell decent grub on north Capitol Hill. We considered just grabbing stuff at QFC (“Q-Fuck”) to make some dinner, but that seemed a little ambitious for our low energy levels. We checked off places in our minds, and decided on perennial late-night grease house Charlie’s on Broadway. My partner suggested that since Charlie’s is supposedly for sale, we should soak up as much of that place as we can before it’s too late. Plus, he was craving mashed potatoes and gravy, so I pointed out that since Charlie’s has virtually everything on their gargantuan menu, surely he would find them there.
Let’s make this clear: Charlie’s does not have the highest quality food. They offer everything from Philadelphia pepper pot soup to tempura vegetables, but none of it rises above mediocrity. This we already knew, but it satisfies a certain craving for greasy, preservative-rich frozen snacks, which Seattle so distinctively disdains. Sitting in the back bar area, the waitress asked us what we want to drink. We told her we just wanted food, and she gave us a puzzled, almost judgmental look. “So…you want to see some menus then?” she asked. Clearly food isn’t the big draw in the bar there. No surprise. She takes our order – Cajun chicken strips for me, Yankee pot roast with mashed potatoes and gravy (!) for him – and within 7 minutes we are both eating. The pot roast was cold and the mashed potatoes lukewarm (my boyfriend, a culinary school graduate, said they probably didn’t even reach the legal serving temperature for reheated food). The vegetables on the plate were even worse; he even spit a piece of broccoli back on the plate. Hilarious! My chicken was run-of-the-mill frozen strips, deep-fried and tossed in some okay sauce, with flimsy celery stalks and thin blue cheese dressing for dipping. I ended up furiously shaking my boyfriend awake in the middle of the night to ask where he stored our big bottle of Tums, because the late-night snack gave me such searing heart burn that I could taste it in the back of my throat. Charming.
Now, it might sound like I’m trashing this place, and I guess I kind of am, but I need to point out how much I love Charlie’s and why it’s so sad that the business might be sold. Capitol Hill, especially Broadway, is changing. It’s no secret that it’s quickly becoming the culinary epicenter of the city; every week it seems like a new place either opens or is announced to be coming soon. A ridiculous amount of new condos and apartments are being built, all with retail/commercial space on the ground floor that will need to be occupied. Hipster havens and cool “concepty” restaurants are everywhere, trying to wiggle their way into the marketplace. Amidst all this growth, few places in Capitol Hill are staying as true to themselves as Charlie’s. It’s not trying to be cool, or reshaping its menu to contain charcuterie plates and Asian-fusion noodle bowls. It evokes an era – the 70s – before everyone had ultra-developed palates and culinary ADD. Before Yelp, before Top Chef, and definitely before sustainable, farm-sourced ingredients were the dining room norm. Charlie’s is a down-to-earth place that refuses to compromise with the times, and that is what I love about it so much. The food leaves a lot to be desired, but while we were eating, all the people around us were having a great time, laughing and loving that moment in time. If Charlie’s is ever sold, I’m sure the new owners will strip it of all its history, soul, and charm, stuff in a bunch of reclaimed wood, and pitch it as the latest-and-greatest scene on the Hill. Or, even worse, be the home of Seattle’s first Applebee’s.
In a nutshell: Love the history and charm of Charlie’s and bemoan the end of an era…but, avoid the Cajun Chicken Strips.
Photo and Text: C.G. Moore
Sometimes the Good Ol’ Down Home Cookin’ is worth the experience. Just so you know, Hill Top Pizza still exists. 🙂