This month, we celebrate the magical return of spring with a little magic of our own, found at Char-Kol. This wow-er of a restaurant opened seven months ago and transformed the corner of South Street in Freehold to one of those chic spots you find in Los Angeles, New York and Atlantic City. I can only imagine the time, care and cost that went into turning this humble corner into two stories of high style. The seating is so comfortable, with marble tabletops, superb tableware, illuminated bronze wall accents and a mesmerizing ceiling with dangling, criss-cross lighting that you can’t stop staring at. The show continues in the busy, open-air kitchen, and the high ceilings keep the acoustics just right for conversation.
But this is not just a pretty face. Char-Kol delivers.
I have to give a special nod to the wait staff who really made the meal. Our server, Jack, gave us impressive descriptions of all the dishes and how they are prepared. We were visited by a few others too, and they all worked together with a lovely and friendly ease. We felt so well-cared for.
We began with three appetizers. Our first was a dozen Sugar Shack Oysters, which were spectacular. They were impeccably shucked, without a grain of sand or grit – clean, cold and delicious. Our second was the Half Charcuterie. The components vary day to day, but all the meats and cheeses are good quality. The only thing I missed were some olives, but you may get some on your visit. We also had the Tempura Shrimp. They are whoppers and come served with a strong-tasting kimchee salad and an interesting, Asian-inspired pancake. It’s got a lot of tang, and the shrimp were beautifully fried. We also split a Grilled Caesar Salad, which you cut up at the table. I would have liked a little more Caesar dressing, but it’s super crunchy and bright.
Diners one and two split a 12-ounce Filet Mignon. Simply served, they added a side of blistered shishito peppers and some tender jumbo asparagus spears. Both diners said the same word: butter. The filet melted in their mouths, and they rated it high for flavor and quality.
Diner three had a burger, and what a burger it was. Close to an inch thick and topped with cheddar cheese and delicate caramelized onions, it was a delicious beefy blend, juicy and cooked perfectly. It comes with a side of hand-cut French fries that were so good. I stole a couple off his plate, and I wished he wasn’t paying such good attention or I would have taken a handful. A well-prepared burger is a joyous American celebration, and his was the Fourth of July on a plate.
I had the Volcano Shank which is a confit lamb shank with an expertly diced mirepoix, served on a bed of coconut and corn puree. The puree sounded intriguing, and it was just as wonderful to taste. I wish there was just a bit more as the juices from the tender lamb mixed with it. Still, its touch of sweetness, combined with the lamb gave this lovely dish an autumn-esque flavor without being heavy.
Char-Kol has lots of choices for the non-beef crowd too, although steaks are a specialty. I also want to mention their big variety of plates that set the mood for each dish. The flatware feels wonderful in your hand, and you can just see that someone has put a lot of thought into every part of the dining experience.
For dessert, we had a Peanut Butter Dream Bomba, which is a cool, creamy concoction of peanut butter gelato and chocolate with a peanut butter drizzle. How could that be anything but wonderful? Our second was the Bread Pudding. It’s non-traditional and not too sweet. Cut into chunks and served with vanilla ice cream on a layer of a darkly flavored cocoa crumble, this is an easy-to-share dessert. Each dense cube is full of mini chocolate chips and has caramel sauce on top. Both were delicious and just sweet enough.
Char-Kol is BYOB. It’s a great choice for a special night, a business meeting and also a great stop for lunch too. There are several municipal parking lots right nearby, but diners know parking in that part of town can sometimes be tricky, so give yourself some extra time to make your reservation.