By Drew Olson Special to Published Dec 28, 2006 at 5:18 AM
If the phrase “casual family dining” conjures images of life-sized cartoon rodents, video arcades, screaming kids and rubbery pizza, it might be time to visit the Charcoal Grill and Rotissere.

With 10 locations reaching from Kenosha to Appleton (and in Franklin, Hales Corners and New Berlin) the Charcoal Grill offers a menu of burgers, chicken, ribs and steaks that is family-friendly but also conducive to business lunches and dinner before a game or movie.

“We’re a little more upscale (than some family-oriented places),” said Kevin MacDougall, the sales and marketing manager for the chain that started with a single store in Racine in 1993.

“We do a lot of business lunches, but at dinner time we have a lot of families, too. It’s the kind of place where you can be comfortable in a suit and tie or in jeans.”

The first thing you notice when you pull into the parking lot at a Charcoal Grill location is the smell. Most of the food is prepared over a wood-fired grill, and the smell of the grills can waft on the wind for several blocks.

“We kind of pioneered that concept of the wood-fired grill, at least around here,” MacDougall said. “The smell is distinctive. We like to say that eating here is like a Miller Park or a Lambeau Field tailgate year-round. It’s the Fourth of July all year.”

Over the past several years, the Charcoal Grill has become a fixture at Summerfest and church festivals. One of the dishes that emanated from that end of the business -- bacon wrapped water chestnuts -- has become a hit at the restaurants along side the fresh kettle chips, waffle fries, nachos, onion strings and soups and salads.

“One of our kitchen managers came up with the idea for during the summer of 2005 for Zoo a La Carte,” MacDougall said. “Last fall, we added them to our appetizer menu and they’ve been our top seller ever since. The guys roll them by hand every morning. They’ve become very popular.”

Also popular are the Charcoal Grill’s daily specials. Monday is 2-for-1 “burger madness” day; Tuesday is 2-for-1 eight-inch pizzas; Wednesday is “kids eat free” day (limit two free kids meals per adult); Thursday is all you can eat ribs and chicken day, which will be featured in an upcoming TV campaign with former Packers defensive lineman Gilbert Brown; Friday is the fish fry, with cod (baked or fried), walleye and a fish and shrimp combo; Saturday features prime rib and smothered chicken cordon bleu and Sunday is “south of the border” day, with a specially-priced chimichanga.

“Our specials have been pretty strong,” MacDougall said. “Our menu isn’t as big as ones you’ll find at some other places, but most people will find something they like at a good value. We do a lot of office party lunches and that’s a big reason.”
Drew Olson Special to

Host of “The Drew Olson Show,” which airs 1-3 p.m. weekdays on The Big 902. Sidekick on “The Mike Heller Show,” airing weekdays on The Big 920 and a statewide network including stations in Madison, Appleton and Wausau. Co-author of Bill Schroeder’s “If These Walls Could Talk: Milwaukee Brewers” on Triumph Books. Co-host of “Big 12 Sports Saturday,” which airs Saturdays during football season on WISN-12. Former senior editor at Former reporter at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.