The transformation of the triangle, that distinctive little corner of land that anchors the Avondale commercial area in West Ashley, has been a long time in the making. From filling station to vacant eyesore to hip, revitalized bar and grill, it took a bit to find the perfect formula. For awhile it was an upstart plant nursery, then gutted into a second-rate Cuban-themed place pretending to be the real deal, but now, in its second incarnation as Triangle Char & Bar, the little-space-that-could has achieved full congruency.
This began to dawn on me when they hosted a block-party benefit supporting Haitian relief a few months back. The grounds (basically the parking lot) have always been the perfect place to host such an event — in the past one could even find a jump castle out there trying to lure patrons through the doors. Somehow, someone finally figured out that it's all about the food. The results are fantastic, and judging from the number of people who pack the joint, this formulation is here to stay. I squeezed in a half-dozen sliders at the Haitian benefit and have been hooked ever since.
The equation for success begins with quality ingredients, and since gourmet burgers are now the centerpiece of the endeavor, that means using top-notch beef. Most places would print grass-fed, organic beef on the menu and feel justified in doubling the advertised prices, but Triangle takes its beef seriously. So much so that it brought its farmer to town to talk about his cows last fall at a City Paper Nosh Mob event, where they served a menu of beef offerings paired with various brews from New Belgium Brewery. They showcased their dedication to the food, and the Nosh Mob couldn't get enough. There were cheers all around. I keep taking people back to try the best new burgers in West Ashley.
The interior, which used to resemble a bad set for a KISS video, has been transformed as well. Only one of the flaming chain-link walls remains, the other blown out in favor of an extended bar space backed with an urban graffiti mural. The dining layout is more open and, like the food, more inviting. They've kept the funky little bar out front (which has always been the most popular hangout spot in the area) and fling open the big garage bays at any opportunity, turning the whole place into an open-air pavilion.
The real charm of Triangle lies in the new food. From Lowcountry eggrolls filled with pulled pork and collard greens ($8) to 12 gourmet burger combinations, they've revitalized the experience by finally matching the menu to the place — it's hip, inventive, a bit bourgeoisie, and very delicious. And that tends to draw a crowd, especially with gems like the "shrimp 'n grits" eggroll ($8), which seems to be a fitting way to give the compulsory Lowcountry duo a creative flourish. It's a bit spicy, owing to the green chilies inside, but some crispy bacon fat smooths things over, and the acidity of the tomato gravy cuts the heat. Of course, they also serve an entrée portion, but they fry the shrimp and "grit bites" ($13) and serve it up with a tomato salad.
I tucked into the "Fat Tire lamb shanks" ($16) and found them outstanding. They braise them in New Belgium's amber ale until they fall from the bone, and it's a genius move, a much lighter outcome than the usual heavy wine reduction found with such things. But the "steak and eggs" ($15) paired with a Bloody Mary must be West Ashley's cure for the hungry hangover. There may be no better answer to a bleary-eyed Saturday morning than an eight-inch stack of pan-fried potatoes and a slab of rare grass-fed flank steak, topped with grilled asparagus and a generous slathering of Bearnaise. Take your Lipitor and come prepared to do battle. If that's not your style, they do advertise a few salads.
Take a good look around this place and you'll see most people are eating the burgers, and rightfully so. I go for the "Plain Jane" ($8), not because the "Wilbur" ($9) (topped with cheddar cheese and fried pork belly) isn't absolutely stunning, but with the quality of the beef, you don't really need that much embellishment. And if you're a burger aficionado, you know what I'm saying. All of the burgers, from "The A.M." ($9) with its fried egg, bacon, and hollandaise, to "The Yank" ($9) topped up with sautéed shrooms, swiss cheese, and horseradish mayo, deserve a taste (and I've made my way through about half of them), but the Plain Jane lets the patty speak for itself: quality cow, cooked to order, spilling juice down to your elbows if you aren't careful.
I've unfairly skipped the vegetarian portabella "burgers," the fish burgers, and the "Gobbler" ($8) with its turkey patty, mashed potatoes, gravy, cranberry, and even "Thanksgiving stuffing" between the buns, and I'm sure there are other fan favorites whose omission will not be easily forgiven. Like the chicken brined in sweet tea, $1.50 ribs and PBR during Saturday happy hour, and a three dollar bowl of popcorn sprayed with the essence of white truffles and dusted with Parmesan accompanied by a cold split of Prosseco. Or maybe Dogfish Head on tap and hand-cut fries dipped in hollandaise.
There are things that could be improved, but they're picky things: the doughy crust of the tempura asparagus fries, the gooey nature of the hot wings, a "Carolina cheese plate" with a decent pimiento spread, crackers, pecans, and sliced apples for an exorbitant seven bucks. I find much of the bar snacks to be sub-par. But in the end, it all evens out.
The winning balance that Triangle strikes is really in catering to the people who live near there, in the little enclaves of Byrnes Down, Old Windermere, and Avondale. They are the regulars here, mostly Gen Xers with kids who want cool places to hang out after work and honest, unpretentious service with quality food worth the bucks. Triangle provides all of these variables, in a perfect location, with just the right angle.