There are few things that excite like new construction. In my town, a building that was once a bank office but fell out of use was torn down and replaced by fresh new apartments with commercial space on the ground floor. It is here that “America’s Tavern” calls home—and it’s an excellent location. Route 7 is one of the main thoroughfares connecting Kirkwood Highway and southeastern Pennsylvania, where you’ll find the densest concentration of the United State’s mushroom production. Kirkwood connects the two major cities in nothern Delaware: Wilmington and Newark. Chuck Lager is just across the street from a small college’s campus and across a different street from the biggest supermarket in town, too, so if you’re looking, you’ll find it.
You’ll be glad you did, too. Chuck Lager’s kitchen was designed by celebrity chef Fabio Viviani, and it’s not his first establishment. Talking to the staff, they seem as confused as I am that his newest restaurant is in Pike Creek, Delaware, but it’s a good thing for me. When you walk in, you’ll notice that Chuck Lager has a very franchise feel. This put me instantly at ease: franchises have a corporate structure that includes checks to maintain food and atmosphere quality. I was shocked to learn that this is actually the first Chuck Lager location, though more are definitely on the way (looking at you, Tampa).
The decor itself is all pretty cool. Lots of wood and brick and burnished metal, lit just enough—that point where everybody can see just fine, and there’s very little eye adjustment necessary when entering at night, but the lights are all low and don’t have the oppressive feel fluorescents tend to incite. Sitting above the entrance vestibule is an actual motorcycle, just chilling there. It’s all very comfortable and familiar without feeling samey or tired.
Décor aside, though, Chuck Lager serves three beers unique to their brand: “Heavy Lifter,” “Red Rider Lager,” and “Rocky Descent.” I had to order samples of all three, and I’m pleased to report that the quality and stylistic diversity presented mean that I can, in fact, recommend Chuck Lager to beer people. Heavy Lifter is advertised as a scotch ale, but brings so much coffee and malt flavor to bear that—while tasting like a flavorful scotch ale—it drinks like a stout. I thought Rocky Descent sounded like a play on Coors, but as it turns out, the beer’s an IPA, and one Morgan didn’t have many good things to say about. I liked it fine, and might order it in an IPA mood, but hops aren’t my favorite beer flavor, so it might be a while. After our samples, Morgan ordered the third of these: the Red Rider Lager. It was my number two (after the Lifter), but I could drink more Red Riders than Heavy Lifters in succession. Our server described it something like “It’s like a Yuengling, but there’s more to it.” She was one hundred percent correct: it was no attempt to copy that beautiful golden drink; it was instead a beer all its own which obviously belonged in the family with Yuengling. There were fruity notes, there were floral notes; I have to go back just so I can do whole pints of both non-IPA’s. A sip each just wasn’t enough.
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Beer wasn’t for dinner on this evening, though. Let’s begin with what my partner in crime ordered: Chuck Lager’s Mediterranean Grilled Shrimp salad. After three years of being totally vegan, she’s developed a very mild aversion to salads. Yes, shrimp is not vegan, and that’s my fault. A concession she made when agreeing to marry a non-vegan was fish, so that we could actually share meals. I’ve tagged this “vegan options” because Chuck Lager does have true vegan options (see the Portobello and Garden Burgers—no cheese, lemon aioli’s your choice—not to mention the Hummus Platter and Guacamole appetizers), and because I haven’t seen Morgan enjoy a salad like that in recent memory.
I’ve been trying to cut back on carbs lately, so rather than a whole beer to myself, I ordered a Cotton Candy Cosmo, which was higher in alcohol than anything else (and spectacularly presented; I highly recommend). Because of this, and the three shots of beer before it, my self control took a hit, and I wound up ordering a burger. I don’t think there’s any shame at all in judging an American establishment by its burger, but I’ve been trying to branch out a bit lately while conducting my research. A Beer Cheese Burger cooked to order with candied bacon, caramelized onions, arugula, and garlic aioli is not adventurous for me. It’s safe; I know it’s delicious, and it was. That being said, my burger patty was not up to the same level as literally everything else this restaurant had thrown at me.
It’s time to do something I haven’t yet had to do on this website: talk about something I disliked. To be clear, I fully recommend this restaurant, but halfway through my burger, I showed it to Morgan, because it was giving me some very real “frozen, prepackaged vibes.” I told the server rare, but this patty had turned grey-brown on the grill and wasn’t breaking apart like I’ve come to expect fresh patties to. It didn’t track: I was impressed by the beautiful brioche this burger was served on, the toppings were all delightful, and it’s the patty that fails me? That’s the easiest part! I had brought up an Untappd issue with our server, and the manager had come to talk about it before asking, “How is everything?”
“Good!” I said, without any hesitation, though I followed it with, “Where do you get your beef?”
“All our burgers arrive as ground beef and we hand form them ourself,” came the reply, and I was genuinely surprised.
“When’s the last time you tasted one of your burgers?”
“Just two or three days ago. Why?” He knew what I was saying by now, though.
I told him anyway: “I was actually just saying to her: this feels like it became a patty somewhere else, then was frozen and sent here.” Then I told him the truth, “I couldn’t believe that’s what you did, though. It doesn’t make sense with anything else going on here. I love the beer.”
He told me he’d try a burger tonight, and I finished mine, so it really only brings them down to a solid B at the worst, and in talking to this manager about locations, I discovered that franchising is in the plans for this brand (I wasn’t kidding, Tampa). I fully support this idea, particularly if they expand their house beer selection and develop its personal style—I support the consumption of their beers, but cannot articulate what ties them together at this point.
I wish to end on a praise, so I’d like to just mention some of the outstanding things about the menu, not all of which I noticed during my brief visit. They’re capable of pizza and flatbreads, and that link talks about how pizza is one of the best foods ever, particularly due to its ability to be customized (looking at you, vegans). I haven’t even touched on the extensive bourbon selection or the region-savvy inclusions like cornbread and the ubiquitous Cheesesteak. We in northern Delaware root for Philadelphia sports, so offering your cheesesteak WIT is very knowing, not to mention the option to sub in Wiz (like how Pat’s does business). The Mason-Dixon line runs through Delaware, so there are Southern things that creep up around us, like a love for cornbread. How better to make your cornbread distinctive and interesting than by making it with jalapeños?
The whole dang restaurant reeks of every trend I hope catches on, not the least of which is the idea that every detail matters. Chuck Lager: America’s Tavern is a place where the folks in charge are paying attention to all those details, and they’re building a place that’s got me quite excited. If you’re in the area, check it out. If not, go to that new place that just opened, and even if its name seems a little weird, it could surprise you just how hard the folks in there are trying.