MOUNT CARROLL – Stacie Klein is doing a lot more with her hands these days, in addition to working wonders with a spatula.
“I get to do the Vanna White thing,” said Klein, co-owner of Charlie’s II, a bar and grill in downtown Mount Carroll.
With nearly every passing morning-coffee customer, Klein has flipped her wrist quite often to show off the newest item to grace the vintage bar counter – it’s a foot-tall plaque from the Carroll County Farm Bureau commemorating the county’s Best Burger.
The Bureau organized the contest in April, and asked the public for nominations among places to eat in Carroll County. The choices were narrowed down to four restaurants by April 30: Charlie’s II, Je’Rod’s in Shannon, MillWheel Tavern in Milledgeville, and The Crooked Roof in Lanark.
Voting closed May 26, and more than 250 votes were garnered halfway through the month.
Klein was unaware such a contest was going on until around Mother’s Day. She noticed someone was trying out burgers at each of the locations, and soon enough more and more people came in with the same purpose.
Revenue grew, too.
“I noticed a spike when the contest was going on,” Klein said. “A lot of people were going around wanting to try them out, and that actually helped out all four businesses.”
The beef and other meats they serve come from the Preston Locker Plant in Preston, Iowa. There’s no real secret to making it any more special, said Klein, other than making it appear as filling as possible.
Charlie’s II offers a hamburger; cheeseburger; bacon cheeseburger; mushroom burger; a homemade pizza burger; a blue cheese and bacon burger; an A1 burger topped with the popular steak sauce; and a western burger consisting of two onion rings, American cheese and barbecue sauce.
Ray Jay of Mount Carroll has been a regular customer for 26 years, and is hooked on the burgers.
“They haven’t killed me yet,” Jay said. “The food’s good.”
Klein has heard customers compliment the burgers as “filling,” and that the burgers aren’t pressed to look like a small patty.
However, the countywide award might be the best compliment of all.
“I work a lot of hours,” Klein said. “It was quite a reward back, saying that we’re doing good.”
Stacie and Robert Klein have owned the restaurant, named for Stacie’s father, for 4 years; and daughters Brooke and Mackenzie help whenever they can.
Charlie’s II is located at 123 W. Market St.
Sauk Valley Media reporter Cody Cutter was fortunate enough to have experienced fresh, quality beef patties at all four finalist locations. Here’s what he thought about them.
MillWheel Tavern, Milledgeville: I ordered the Three Cheese Garlic burger, which is cooked with garlic herb butter. The cheeses were American, cheddar, and mozzarella, all melted in unison, covering almost the entire patty. What looks like the shape of a hamburger patty, but doesn’t look beef brown, was extremely appealing at first sight. The meat was nice and tender, and was very easy to devour.
Je’Rods, Shannon: I hadn’t visited this place until I heard it was a finalist for Carroll County’s Best Burger. I ordered what was described as The Pounder. Cheddar cheese was melted as much as it could possibly be melted, with bacon chunks spread between two half-pound patties. One could guess that this would take both hands to munch on, and it did.
Charlie’s II, Mount Carroll: Sacre bleu! Blue cheese, that is. I ordered the Blue Cheese and Bacon Burger, largely because I’m a fan of blue cheese. The trick with blue cheese is to spread it out like butter around and under the patty, leaving no morsel behind. Take that potency, plus crisp strips of bacon on a patty, and taste buds were dancing on the brick streets.
The Crooked Roof, Lanark: It’s nice enough outside to start grilling burgers, and the one I had here tasted like one I would have got fresh off the grill. This one was also a bacon cheeseburger. Add in the cheddar cheese melted on top of the strips of bacon, and there was a lot to bite into. Not much grease here, which made it easy to get a grab on to.