Restaurant Review by Ken Stewart, The Guam Food Guy
Although many things about Charley's Steakery will ultimately impress you, one original impression that is made is the incredibly warm greeting and reception customers receive by the friendly smiling faces(these young people take pleasure from pleasing customers!) This winning "customer service" attitude has been a primary training objective of Michelle Badhorn, Operations Specialist, from Columbus, Ohio(HQ for Charley's Steakery), who is one of three specialists who open up new franchise locations and train the local teams. She was a former operator of a Charley's franchise, along with other food outlets, at the Columbus Zoo, before joining Charley's corporate team in January. She thinks the world of her boss, the founder, Charley Shin. After experiencing the product and service they've created and delivered, I can understand why she feels that way.
Before ordering my first Charley's sandwich, I observed the entire operation from a distance, and then from the counter line, where the orders are placed and the food is cooked right before your eyes. I didn't say anything and they didn't know me(I prefer anonymity), so I ordered the Philly Steak Deluxe, described as a "thinly sliced USDA Choice steak grilled with onions, green peppers, and mushrooms, topped with Provolone Cheese." I ordered the Combo, with Lemonade and Charley's Original Fresh Fries. ($1.69 for Reg./$1.99 for Large). The meat is a thinly sliced piece that is placed on the large griddle and onions and green bell peppers are placed on top. It gets turned over and mushrooms are added as the meat is then separated to cook and the vegetables are grilled. It gets mixed and blended quickly, and the meat is cooked thoroughly. The bun is grilled lightly, and the server asks if you'd like mayonnaise, mustard, tomatoes, lettuce, and banana peppers. Some other sauces like vinegar are also available. While the meat is cooking, your drink and Fries are given to you.
The whole process takes less than 90 seconds....which is their standard for delivering the order. Michele later said the staff here was averaging 71 seconds!
OK, now on to the taste.
I've had Philadelphia Cheesesteak sandwiches in the past in different American restaurants, though never in Philadelphia. Charley's sandwich was delicious, and rated as my best cheesesteak experience. Others I've had were on the greasy side. Charley's bun had that fresh-baked, yeast flavored sweet taste that comes from home-made bread. It did not get soggy from the mixed condiments, and retained its texture. The combination of vegetables, cooked meat, and melted cheese was irresistible, and I found myself marveling at each bite I took. Truly a memorable sandwich experience, better than just "good". The Fries did not have that greasy French fry taste. They tasted like potatoes, and each fry has skin on it, giving it a more wholesome appearance and quality. Moreover, the Fries are served in a "cascading" manner, creating the illusion of falling out of the container because of the "large"(over-size) portions. Believe me, they served you enough.
I returned to Charley's the next day and tried the Three Cheese Steak, which had grilled onions topped with Provolone, Swiss and American Cheeses. That was a great sandwich,too. This time I had the Gourmet Cheese & Bacon Fries ($2.79). (Note: the Gourmet Ranch & Bacon Fries are also $2.79). This is a large order and the bacon bits are genuine, and use a high quality, lean ham. Another winner! Again, the bun adds a dimension to this sandwich that brings out its best. To collaborate and get outside opinions about the Charley's experience, I was joined by veteran eater, Mike Torres, who had had the original Philly Cheesesteak Sandwiches in Philadelphia. Though it wasn't exactly as he had it before, Charley's was still an exceptionally good sandwich. Another testimonial was given by Lex Rathbun, who wanted more mushrooms (so that he could see them), and he was favorably impressed.
The next day I went a different time and was greeted wonderfully by the happy staff (they must be taking happy pills). I ordered just the Chicken Cordon Blue, which is 100% chicken breast, grilled with lean ham, mushrooms, and topped with Swiss Cheese. No fries this time, just that refreshing lemonade. The combination of ham and chicken with that Swiss Cheese was, as the French say, "OOOO, La la!. Formidable!"
My last Charley's Steakery experience was the Chicken Philadelphia, which has the white chicken breast grilled with onions, green peppers, and mushrooms, topped with Provolone Cheese. I felt I was going overboard on Sandwiches (this is more than I can remember ever eating consecutively), but I wanted to have more to report on for this review, and they weren't overly filling. I added the works to The Chicken Philadelphia. As I savored each bite, it was "deja vu" all over again. Even though each of the four sandwiches I'd eaten had different ingredients, they still had the distinct fresh cooked taste and flavor, which gave them a uniformity and consistency that I haven't yet experienced in other fast food "cooked" meat sandwiches.
In closing, I didn't expect to rave on about a "fast food" sandwich outlet. But in a world of sandwich cultures, it's good to have variety and choices to satisfy the gamut of customer preferences. I believe that Kevin Yang, the Guam Charley's Steakery owner, has made the right career move, from banking to food, ...food that is not only fast, but deliciously fresh!
Bet you get "hooked"!