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May 9, 2008 08:42 AM

The New Charlie's - A Review

Lets start with the good news. Charlie's is back, the food is good and the prices are reasonable. The bad news is probably temporary - the restaurant is 2 weeks old and the service has very real problems.

We missed the old Charlie's, a comfortable old place that had happy memories. When it reopened recently we were so eager to get back that we forgot our usual caution about new restaurants.

Repeat after me - "For the first month all new restaurants either have kitchen problems or service issues. Or both"

We knew that but somehow we suspended disbelief - we pretended this was an old friend who just went away to a high class spa to lose weight and gain muscle.

Wrong. This Charlie's is a new restaurant with all the associated ills.

The new Charlie's is bigger. They tore down the old building and put up a new structure over the winter. Everything sparkles and there's a pleasant upstairs bar (along with a downstairs bar) with additional seating.

The staff are pleasant but a bit clueless. We gave our name to the receptionist and told her to let us know if the restaurant was filling up and then we had a drink upstairs. If it was getting tight we planned on grabbing a table before they were all gone.

The upstairs bar is pleasant with a view of the water. Drink prices were gentle - martinis ordered at 6:30 on a Thursday evening were $7.00 a piece plus tax. Whee! They may have been happy hour prices but it was still very nice. A note of caution - the upstairs area has lots of bare wood and the echoes bounce around lustily. This place will get really loud when it's full.

We came down about an hour later and were surprised to find that the dining room was full. "Oh, I tried to find you guys." Yes, we were hiding at the upstairs bar where we told you we were going. (We later heard her ask parties to leave their cell phone number with her. This seems to be their standard practice. If you arrive when the restaurant is full make sure she takes your's down.)

We again put our name in and had a seat in the small waiting area. Twenty minutes went by. Three or four tables were seated. When a party of two were seated who had come in after us I became a little uneasy and asked about the progress of our table. The receptionist seemed genuinely surprised and asked if we were were waiting to be seated. Well, yes, we asked you about it 25 minutes ago and then sat directly in front of you patiently waiting.

She led us into the main dining area where a table had just opened up. The mixup didn't actually cost us any time but it left us less then confident in her ability to manage things.

We ordered starters, appetizers, and a bottle of wine. My house salad came quickly and was very good. The chili soup I ordered turned out to be a bowl of chili. I thought it was a mistake since it had been listed on the menu under the Soup section. No, the chili soup is actually chili. The pleasant waiter swapped it out for a southwestern style bean soup which was actually very good. The chicken wings ordered by my girlfriend were pretty good. Unlike most wings these were moist but served with the dipping sauce on the side. They had been marinated in a subtle spicy sauce which had a kick that made itself known gradually. I actually liked them more than she did but I suspect that our service issues were beginning to take their toll.

Then the wait began. Fifteen minutes went by after we finished our starters. No food, no wine, and the 2 glasses of water we asked for never showed up. Our waiter hadn't been seen in the dining room in 10 minutes. I walked out to the reception area and asked the receptionist to locate our waiter and send him over. About 2 minutes later our mains arrived, delivered by a busboy. Another two minutes and a waitress, not our waiter, arrived with 2 glasses of wine. Nice wine, but not the full bottle we had ordered 20 minutes earlier. To her credit, she took it off the bill.

The mains were good. My Chicken Savoy was a generous portion of chicken breast sauteed in a light balsamic vinegar sauce with mushrooms, onions, and peppers. The flavors were subtle and I'd happily order it again. My girlfriend's large serving of lasagna was pleasant if a bit unremarkable. It seemed like it was missing one small ingredient which would have put it over the top. But maybe we were just cranky and a bit picky.

My baked potato side order came without sauce or butter. I asked about this and it took them 10 minutes to deliver the butter. By that time the potato had cooled substantially and the butter didn't melt all that well. By now you're getting the picture.

At the end of the meal the waiter delivered a sincere apology. We took him at his word and tipped generously.

With the comped glass of wine and a second round added to the bill our tab was $42, ridiculously low for a substantial amount of pretty good food. Had we paid for the first round of drinks the bill would have been $56. Still a steal.

We'll be back after the service settles down.

Don't be misled by Charlie's website. It still carries the old menu along with a picture of the old building. The new menu has a wider range of choices but the pricing is substantially the same. I would expect them to revamp the website shortly.

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    1. re: JerzeyShore

      Long Branch
      Maybe they should have cleaned house and brought in new staff. Instead it sounds like they still have the same old school staff that has been there since the begining, 1985.

      1. re: NJDolfan

        Reading Bob's review, it sounded like it WAS a new staff.

        1. re: Barbarella

          Yes, it did look like new staff. My sense is that they'll improve when they work together for a few more weeks.

          As a matter of fact, I miss the heavy set Italian guy who used to work at the reception desk at the old Charlie's. He was a real pro and managed the whole operation very smoothly.

          The full address:

          29 Avenel Boulevard
          Long Branch, NJ 07740

          (As I mentioned at the start of the thread, the website hasn't yet been updated and the menu and pictures are all from last year.)

          1. re: Bob Martinez

            BTW, the old maitre 'd is working at the new place. He's still great at his job.

            1. re: Bob Martinez

              If you're speaking of Pete (dark hair, gruff and sweet), he only works weekends. The other maitre 'ds don't hold a candle...

    2. tell me they kept the bahamian fish chowder on the menu.... without, sounds like i have few reasons to return

      2 Replies
      1. re: aklein

        The fish chowder is still on the menu.

        1. re: fershore

          thanks, now maybe i'll roll the dice

      2. I loved the old place, Brian the bartender, JJ & Nancy the great waitresses,the old school locals. Went there last weekend for a drink at the upstairs bar, very nice, great deck. The bar was about 1/4 full and they definately have some noise issues here, it was way loud. They need to find a way to soften this somehow.

        2 Replies
          1. re: aklein

            If Brian is who I think he is, he left years ago to go to Murphy's in Rumson. I never met him, but some of the bartenders and wait staff keep in touch with him.

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