Hometown Flavor: Charley’s Other Brother
1383 Monmouth Road Mount Holly
On a typical night out, I would have found myself drawn right to Charley’s Other Brother’s bar for a quick bite. I’m a fan of fast and friendly assistance—the service you’ll find alongside most bar menus in the area—and this seemed like my kind of place. The inviting space seemed relaxed but well-kept, surrounded by shelves of wine and liquors and a crowd taking advantage of the end of happy hour.
The welcoming atmosphere didn’t extend into the dining room, however. We were seated and immediately noticed the dated décor that included our scratched wooden booth with torn padding worn down beyond comfort. Tables were stuffed together, creating very limited space for the large dinner crowd. Window treatments consisted of a black piece of cellophane used to block out the sun and the walls were covered in oddly placed movie memorabilia.
Our server’s endlessly cheerful energy helped light up the aging space. She seemed like the only server on call that night, and unfortunately drinks and food dragged in making their way to our table while inexperienced busboys stood idly by. Still, even while darting around without any help, our server always returned with a smile, greeting regulars like old friends and newcomers with the expertise of a professional.
There was no shortage of drink choices at Charley’s, with a martini and cocktail list taking up an entire page of their sprawling menu. All around me you could hear regular customers raving about their favorite drinks, and the bartender didn’t appear to stop moving all night.
From the appetizer menu, slight changes of ingredients was what brought new life to old favorites. My guest selected potato skins to start. Instead of the cheese, bacon and sour cream one might expect, we received a broil dish full of chili, covered in cheddar with four crispy potatoes for scooping. One bite tasted instantly like the home cooking I’ve grown up with, a sweet chili that you could find in the crock pot of any experienced grandmother.
Stuffed mushrooms followed, four fresh and juicy button mushrooms overflowing with crab meat and broiled until golden brown. They didn’t last long. The crab, just barely breaded and seasoned, still preserved the natural sweetness and the small soft mushrooms created one pleasantly harmonious bite.
Still flying high from our appetizers, I ordered the Charley’s Famous Prime, advertised across the menu as their signature dish. The 12 oz. cut arrived with a side salad, seasonal vegetables, a potato and aged au jus. Though cooked just right at medium rare, the slab was packed with large, inedible chunks of white fat, and I had to cut about a quarter of the meal away before even taking a bite. The accompanying au jus tasted strongly of bouillon, but still provided a nice change of taste to the under-seasoned meat. I returned most of my meal, disappointed in what I hoped would be a classic entrée. My guest chose the baked lump crab cakes with seasonal vegetables, salad and rice pilaf. Two jumbo crab cakes arrived hot at the table swimming in a pool of Champagne horseradish cream sauce. The crab cakes were loaded up with meat—and unfortunately several large pieces of shell—but the cream sauce was what stole the show. It began sweet, coating the slightly salty cake, but finished with a bite from the horseradish. I was surprised that such a complex sauce—a creation I had never experienced before—could be found stuck right on the corner of miles of Mount Holly cornfields.
To cap off the meal, we ordered what was marketed as the chef’s favorite dessert, Xango’s cheesecake. What came out was a large eggroll sitting in a pool of lukewarm fudge sauce, stuffed with a banana caramel cheesecake cream, then deep fried and coated in cinnamon sugar. The fresh banana taste was complemented by the crispy outside and chocolate. It was really creative and a very successful end to our visit.
There’s no mistaking Charley’s as the locals’ standard spot. Sitting among the crowds of regulars, that much was easy to tell. Though there were some noticeable kinks, the track record speaks for itself and there’s certainly something to be said about longevity, especially in the restaurant business.
Published (and copyrighted) in South Jersey Magazine, Volume 9, Issue 5 (August, 2012).
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