RESTAURANT REVIEW: Triangle Char and Bar 

Family fun

click to enlarge Tommy crayton, chef at Triangle Char and Bar, serves marinated flank steak, garlic mashed red skins, and grilled asparagus
  • Tommy crayton, chef at Triangle Char and Bar, serves marinated flank steak, garlic mashed red skins, and grilled asparagus

Triangle Char and Bar
American/Eclecic – Casual
Entrées $15-$20
Dinner Nightly
828 Savannah Hwy., West Ashley
377-1300

You have to give the guys at Triangle Char and Bar credit. They certainly know how to persevere — and they do it in a location that for years was nothing less than a haunted space at the angled intersection of Savannah Highway and Magnolia Road. After a failed attempt with the pseudo-Cuban Avondale Station followed by a total shut-down transformation, the backers of this upstart "steakhouse" have shown they have pockets deep enough for the long haul. Rumors abound about just how much dough they sunk into the effort, but after several years of tweaking and wholesale overhaul, it seems they have reached a sustainable model — one that combines a great bar, overpriced food, and the beginnings of a family fun park.

The secret to their success lies not in exemplary food, but fun and games of both the juvenile and adult variety. The bar area dominates the building's façade; housed under a huge inverted wing it, like the rest of the space inside, sports a convertible feel, with awnings and zippered plastic enclosures that can be adjusted to the weather. It is a cool space, ideal for lazy Saturday afternoons or after-work drinks, and the boisterous crowd pays testament to its popularity with residents of the Avondale area. An ample beer selection, including some premium kegs on tap, keeps the revelry going late into the night; it's a fun place to hang out.

But Triangle offers more than just a great bar; they are supposed to be a restaurant, and even if the food struggles mightily at times, they provide a decent, albeit basic, menu of average fare. All indications frame them as an aspiring steakhouse, but if you have visions of Brett McKee lovingly rubbing espresso beans into a prime, dry-aged ribeye, then you're in the wrong place. Triangle Char and Bar serves nothing remotely like the Oak Steakhouse downtown. We're talking steak more along the lines of Western Sizzlin' here, but with a local flavor. Much of the concept appears ripped straight from the playbook of Brinson's Beef and Brew out on James Island, which recently abandoned its own steakhouse concept for a sports bar theme.

At Triangle, the steaks are thin and low-grade, more mealy than toothsome, and lacking the "char" associated with a fine steak (and the place's name). Nightly specials serve only to gussy them up with piles of ingredients — blue cheese over here, a bit of fried onion there — perhaps they make them look thicker with all that stuff on top. Mine tasted alright, but came with some sticker shock. A trip to The Pig and a cheap grill could give you a better result, and at 20 bucks a pop, you could find some pretty good ribeyes around town.

The laminated menus proffer numerous other crowd-pleasers. What they lack in originality, they make up for in familiarity, but also seem a bit steeply priced. Sweet, syrupy Asian-style chicken wings ($7.95), which taste great by themselves, come with blue cheese and celery sticks. Why? Have they actually tasted a hoisin-sauced chicken drumette dripping with blue cheese and mayonnaise, or does Middle America demand these accoutrements with all forms of wings, spicy and otherwise? Perhaps this is just a way to sell more beer.

Other dishes continue the same general theme. Yesterday's baked potatoes — they call them "potato skins" ($6.95) — appear sliced and loaded with tomato, jalapeños, and cheese before being scorched under the broiler. They aren't bad, but for seven bucks, I want more than three leftover spuds with some processed cheese on top. Sandwiches, like the "Classic Cuban" ($7.99) taste good and are their best effort. Leftover from the Avondale Station days, the Cuban comes toasty and crisp, perhaps lacking a bit of meat in the middle, but slapped with the tang of a fat pickle slice and mustard. Pasta dishes should be avoided. Perhaps your kids will dig a plate of mushy, overcooked spaghetti, drenched in a thin, watery tomato sauce (mine slurped it down with gusto), but how any adult could bring themselves to order that in full view of one the best Italian restaurants in town is beyond comprehension. They should take a page from Applebee's and hire a Food Network star like Tyler Florence to revamp this stuff.

Forget the overpriced food. It's a fact of life. The true draw of the place seems to be the gimmickry of fun and games, a soccer-mom magnet; everyone knows that amusements (and a hefty renovation bill) push up the prices. Tuesday night is kid's night, with a free jump castle and two-for-one children's menu -- and if you go every week you can join the "Tri Diners Club," which guarantees you a free entrée for every five you purchase (knocks at least three bucks off that ribeye). On Dec. 2, there will be caroling, hot chocolate, collection of toys for charity, and Christmas tree lighting. I know of no other place where you can sip bourbon and eat bar food while watching your kids frolic, sing, slurp hot cocoa, and terrorize the college hostesses. You can get a better meal within walking distance for 50 bucks, but do they promise "Food, Fire, and Fun" and have a jump castle? Some things really are priceless.

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