Creekside Bar and Grill
Lunch, dinner, weekend brunch
508-B Mill St., Mt. Pleasant
These days it seems there's a stellar cheeseburger around every corner, for every occasion. On Sundays, you can cure your hangovers with Parson Jack's huge charred hunks of molten beef; at lunch, there's the quick, greasy, brown-bagged perfection of Five Guys Burgers and Fries, and when summer rolls around, there are beach bum burgers at Poe's Tavern on Sullivan's. Perhaps it's indicative of a sagging economy or just the change in the way things used to be, back before Joe Riley decreed everyone's bedtime to be 2 a.m. and you could still get lost in the thick fog of cigarette smoke that wafted over the late-night griddle at AC's Bar and Grill. Back then, This Is Your Place opened only for lunch and served the golden standard of burgerdom — piled high with jalapeños, bacon, and cheese — from safely inside a dilapidated shack at the far end of the Market. And then, suddenly, This Is Your Place, like some throwback to suburban white flight, abandoned the peninsula.
Maybe the demise of the original king of Chucktown burger spots opened the door to places like Creekside Bar and Grill, who could stake their entire reputation on a single slab of hand-patted cow flesh, but they don't have to because the rest of their bar grub is so damn delicious. The place fits right in among the Shem Creek crowd, a unique blend of marsh view setting, particularly pleasant from the rooftop bar, and an array of games blasting from more televisions than a Best Buy showroom floor.
A T-shirt sold at the restaurant encourages folks to discover their "freak side" at Creekside, and after a meal there, you may interpret that as a challenge — or at least an indication that eating here would be excellent preparation for the annual Nathan's Finest hotdog-eating contest. I plan to bring a wheelbarrow the next time we go, just in case I can't get up from the table. That's what can happen when you're suckered into portions so enormous and addictive that they pose a danger to your health.
Plates of wings ($6.95 for 10) come out after being fried and then grilled for extra measure, the hot sear of the authentic buffalo sauce charred to the exterior like tire tracks after a race-ending NASCAR burnout. This is authentic bar grub, prepared by people who obviously understand what counts when downing a bucket of longnecks during an intraleague ACC basketball rivalry — people don't want to think about the food and they want plenty of it. And of course, it must be really, really good.
The folks at Creekside know this. That's why the Creekside fries are hand-cut ($7.95) with the skins still on, fried into thick slabs and smothered with all sorts of gooey layers: chili, cheese, big chunks of crispy fried bacon, and served with a big cup of ranch dressing. It's why the Loco Nachos ($7.95) could feed six. The plate is a mountain of crispy corn flour and accoutrements. And like a gold-struck 49er, you'll dig for treasure along its slopes, pulling out sheaves of tortilla. This one with cheese and black bean corn salsa, that one with sour cream, lettuce, and the piquant touch of pico de gallo.
While that's all very exciting, it's the burger that most people will swoon for. It's the only one I've never finished (the plate of nachos beforehand was an unfair handicap). Call me a throwback, but I like my burgers bloody and Creekside can deliver: ground in-house, cooked to order, and like the nachos, about the same size as your head. I especially like the Creekside burger ($8.95), which, besides being well-endowed with 10 ounces of rare beef, comes loaded up with chili, fried bacon, and a fried egg (I had them add cheese just for good measure). It's a revelation, as unique and homespun as a Sesame burger up in North Chuck, big and bodacious like the slabs out at Parson Jack's, surrounded by the blare of electric flat-screen bliss, and all washed down with a good selection of cold brew. It's a burger worth driving across town for, worth braving a raucous selection of twentysomethings splashing beer about while high-fiving across the bar.
Despite inhabiting the Shem Creek stretch, which rarely delivers your money's worth, Creekside seems to be making a good go of it. They have the atmosphere, the food, and a sports-bar atmosphere that this part of Mt. Pleasant sorely lacked in the past. Altogether, a recipe for success that should have burger fans lining up in droves. Don't forget your wheelbarrow.