Folsom, PA: Awesome Old-school Burgers at Charlie's
336 Kedron Avenue, Folsom PA 19033 (map); 610-461-4228
Cooking Method: Griddle
Short Order: Slider-esque old school burgers 20 minutes outside of Philadelphia
Want Fries with That? No fries; get a black & white shake or a hot dog on the side.
Price: Cheeseburger, $2.40; specials, $2.85; double cheeseburger, $3.90
Notes: Closed Tuesdays
Driving through Folsom, Pennsylvania, past the drive-thru dairy mart, western-themed beer store and Nifty Fifty's retro diner, you might think you were in a small country town in the middle of nowhere rather than 15 minutes outside of the city.
I've always been vaguely aware that Delaware County—just west of Philadelphia—was a goldmine of old school hot dog and hamburger joints. Although I've had some good dogs out here, for the most part the hamburgers haven't knocked my socks off. But Charlie's, a bare bones burger stand that's been recommended to me about a zillion times, is the real thing.
A tiny shack on the side of the road, with counter seating for maybe a dozen people and a super simple menu (no fries), definitely feels like the Philadelphia equivalent of New Jersey's White Manna. The fresh, hand-formed patties are cooked to order on the flat grill behind the counter, then lined up along a stainless steel shelf waiting for toppings.
They don't call them "sliders," but size-wise they're pretty close, maybe three or four ounces each and no more than three and half inches in diameter. This is the Bunny Special, which comes topped with cheese, tomato slices, diced onions, and spicy mustard.
The buns are standard commercial white buns (you see the bags stacked up behind the counter) perfectly toasted on the griddle. The diced onions are under the tomato and insanely microscopic and fresh in that way that the best old-school hot dog joints do, adding a subtle flavor instead of overpowering everything.
The meat, being hand formed, isn't too tightly packed and if you look closely you can see there's even some pink left in there. What you can't see under all the toppings is that there's a decent char on there, too. The best part is that delicious zone where the meat and cheese melt into each other. The flavor's good, but next time I might ditch the toppings and just go minimal to really taste the beef.
Their other special is the Charlie, this one topped with cheese, tomato, ketchup, pickles, and fried onions.
Again, we have the microscopic onions, this time "fried," which is more like a cooked onion sauce. The pickles are nice and crisp, and again, the bun is perfectly toasted, soft on top and just crisp enough to hold it all together. My only complaint is there's a little too much ketchup.
With the ketchup, fried onion sauce, and pickle chips, this burger really takes you back to fast food territory, only about 100 times better. It's hard to pinpoint what exactly makes this place so much better than most of the other old school burger places around Philadelphia. Fresh beef is one, and I'm sure the minimal menu of just burgers, dogs, and milkshakes helps keep the painstaking attention to detail going.
And don't miss the thick black and white milkshakes, big enough to split between two people.
If you're looking for an Old School burger in Philadelphia, this is the spot. My only critique is that the specials are a little bit heavy on the toppings, especially with such a small burger. Next time I'll go with double patties for the specials, or maybe just a plain cheeseburger with some onions—or probably both.
About the author: Hawk Krall is a Philadelphia-based illustrator who writes and draws the Hot Dog of the Week column on Serious Eats—now bringing regular Philadelphia burger coverage as well. If you have suggestions, let him know!