Game On

Memories Charcoal House Covers all the Bases at 25

By April Bartel | Photography by Turner Photography Studio | Posted on 07.03.19 – Dining, Food & Drink

For any sports fan, the social triple play is an engaging game in combo with indulgent eats and an atmosphere of buoyant camaraderie. That’s the cincher at Memories Charcoal House in Mount Airy. Since Reid Roberts opened its doors on April 12, 1994, it’s earned a reputation as the go-to gathering spot for juicy, smoke-kissed burgers that are meant to be savored beneath big-screen TVs showcasing a span of seasonal sports.

For any sports fan, the social triple play is an engaging game in combo with indulgent eats and an atmosphere of buoyant camaraderie. That’s the cincher at Memories Charcoal House in Mount Airy. Since Reid Roberts opened its doors on April 12, 1994, it’s earned a reputation as the go-to gathering spot for juicy, smoke-kissed burgers that are meant to be savored beneath big-screen TVs showcasing a span of seasonal sports.

The darkly cozy pub space leads to a beachy patio, complete with a second bar outdoors, that’s made for parties. These regular affairs range from socially conscious fundraisers to nighttime stylings of club-worthy performers who get the crowd revved. The surprise element is the relaxed, family friendly dining room where fan-favorite recipes command the field.

Jon Speiser and Andrea Stup, both 36, took over as co-owners in January of 2009. It’s no boast when they say they’ve spent half their lives at the restaurant.

“I started working here, waiting tables and running food, 17 years ago as of June. I was 19 years old, in college and just needed a job,” Speiser recalls. Stup’s story is similar. The Mount Airy native started at Memories Charcoal House about a year before Speiser.

Both are fiercely proud of their ties to the community. All of their major proteins, including their notable burgers and charbroiled steaks, are locally sourced from Wagner’s Meats, another Mount Airy staple since 1953.

Speiser and Stup complete each other’s sentences as they explain the value of their commitment. “Supporting small, local businesses is important to us …,” he starts, “…because we are a small, local business,” she finishes. Using such ingredients might be a premium compared to a bigger food purveyor, continues Speiser, “but the quality and the relationship you get outweighs the price difference.”

The two bars are fraternal hot spots for showcasing Maryland brews, too. Fans can use the Untappd geosocial networking app to track which of their favorites are currently flowing at the 16 taps. Flavors and details appear on screens in the bar.

Community outreach is central to the pair’s business model. “We support the Mount Airy Volunteer Fire Company every year with a benefit in September. We’ve been doing that for the past 10 years,” says Stup. Also, the local chapter of the American Can-cer Society’s Making Strides Against Breast Cancer fundraiser also hosts an annual kickoff luncheon at Memories Charcoal House, with proceeds from every Tito’s pink martini sale support-ing the mission. Stup describes the drink’s flavor as similar to a Cosmo-politan and notes, “We’ve sold hundreds upon hundreds of those throughout the years.” Speiser ballparks an amount: “We probably raise more than $10,000 a year for local charities.”

A recent fundraiser for Multiple Sclerosis raised $3,000 in one day. Organizations play on the popular eatery’s draw and convenient location at 403 E. Ridgeville Blvd. (between Walmart and Safeway) for a fun and easy way to enable support and strengthen community ties. Green Valley Elementary School hosted a “dine out night” last month.

Monthly patio parties keep the ball rolling. July 13 is the 7th annual Bull & Oyster Roast, featuring thinly shaved ribbons of pit beef and fresh, raw oysters. It begins at 2 p.m. with special promos, giveaways and drink specials/tastings throughout the event.

Just about every day offers something special. Mellow Sunday afternoons mean acoustic music with the likes of Freddie Long, Stefan Edwards or Timmy Mo. On Friday and Saturday nights, notes cascade across the secluded patio from lively karaoke singers or the sonorous beats of professional DJs and other entertainers. “It’s not exactly a nightclub,” insists Speiser, “but it is a fun and exciting place to be.”

Memories Charcoal House’s longevity proves that it is also a contender in the kitchen. Customer reviews call out the highlights of a menu that is stacked with long running favorites and evolving additions. The top selling dish: burgers. Stup chuckles, “I definitely eat a burger here once a week. I won’t order a burger anywhere else.” She shrugs unapologetically, “It’s never as good as ours.”

Self-taught Speiser is de facto chef while Stup runs the bar and the front of the house. They collaborate on new dishes. “We bounce ideas off each other,” Speiser says. “Then we’ll use specials to test items.”

Recipes that make the cut get a regular spot on the menu. The lineup starts with the famous crab dip, Buffalo shrimp or seafood nachos. The Reuben rolls are hand-crafted with slow-roasted, house-made corned beef, which Speiser calls “labor-intensive but worth it.” Wings steal the scene on Mondays at 75 cents each. They can be slathered in a variety of sauces: garlic Parmesan, teriyaki, mango habanero, honey barbecue or Memories’ own “Cardinal” sauce—a smoky hit of sweet heat that is finished on the charcoal broiler for caramelized brown sugar flavor. Speiser quips that the charcoal grill is “older than I am, but it does an amazing job.”

The restaurant’s handheld category lists chicken gyros, cheesy “Boom Boom” shrimp tacos and a California salmon BLT dressed with creamy avocado and ranch. Guests can opt for a cup or bowl of competition-winning chili that’s loaded with Wagner’s beef and cheddar jack, alone or in complement to a meal-sized salad. Those may be loaded with marinated steak and creamy goat cheese, blackened chicken with Santa Fe-style vegetables, or grilled salmon paired with fresh asparagus. There’s even a version with crispy chicken tenders flavored with honey and Old Bay seasoning.

Meat-centric mains feature Wagner’s hand-cut, 16-ounce “cowboy” ribeye and 14-ounce center sirloin strip steaks. The barbecue rib recipe hasn’t changed since the place opened, offered in country style or baby back versions. Atlantic salmon, “spring” chicken, crab cakes, jumbo steamed shrimp and pastas, including decadent crabby mac-n-cheese, round out the tabletop team. The Tuesday night special is all-you-can-eat Alaskan snow crab legs at market price (currently about $40).

Looking back on their tenure, Stup and Speiser say Memories Charcoal House scores because it “checks a lot of boxes” with three distinct dining zones, solid fare, upbeat energy, teamwork and strong community bonds.

Speiser shares, “The staff makes us who we are. They are not employees, they are family. They are the faces customers come back to see.” He continues, “Our regular customers have been with us for 10 years. The ranks have only grown. They’ve watched the place transform and they are with us on this journey.”

Their game plan isn’t a secret—connect, evolve and reinvest—but it certainly seems to be working.