Between the craft beer and decadent sandwiches made with red meat, Carl’s Meat Market in Kittery is a popular place for men. I stopped in to pick up a sandwich following an appointment in Portsmouth, and the market that sits in the shadow of New Hampshire was full of guys loading up on beef and barley. Women were among the customers, but the ratio was four to one.
I understand the allure. Carl’s has a reputation for making big, hearty sandwiches – all served to go – and for maintaining a counter that includes a large selection of cuts of meats and interesting marinades and cheeses, as well as a fabulous variety of local and regional craft beers. Carl’s also stocks charcoal for the grill and a variety of bones, ears and other animal parts as dog treats for man’s best friends.
The only things missing were big-screen TVs and a few bar stools.
I ordered the Monster Burger, which at $6.99 felt exceptionally reasonably priced. It consisted of 6 ounces of fresh ground beef, cheddar cheese, a handful of french fries, an onion ring or two and fried pickles, all sandwiched between a chewy burger bun. Based on the positive reviews that I read in advance, I knew Carl’s operated a lunch counter but was unaware it didn’t also have restaurant-style seating. I had planned to eat in and didn’t realize until I arrived that wasn’t an option.
So I grabbed my burger to go and hustled home to Berwick to enjoy it while it was still hot and fresh and before the fries and onion rings became cold and gooey. As it turned out, I had nothing to worry about. The insulating wrapper kept the burger warm and inviting over my 25-minute drive.
The burger was excellent. I asked for it to be cooked medium, and it was cooked perfectly to medium while retaining its moisture and fresh flavor. Carl’s says it grounds its burger beef daily, and I had no doubt that was true. I could taste the freshness of what I presume was locally sourced beef.
At first glance, I thought the fries and onion rings were unnecessary add-ons and were typically the sorts of things I prefer on the side. I am not a big fan of overloaded burgers, because I don’t like to detract from the red-meat flavor. In this instance, the fries and onion rings added subtle flavor and a lot of texture, and complemented the burger overall. What popped in terms of flavor were the fried pickles, which were delightfully sour.
Next time, I am going to venture out and try a specialty sandwich. The Sluggo ($7.99) is a roast chicken, bacon and barbecue sandwich. Carl’s Barbarian ($8.99) includes corned beef, pastrami, roast beef, bacon and Swiss cheese. There’s a Hangover ($8.49 for a 10-inch sub) that consists of steak and cheese, bacon and a fried egg with spicy ketchup.
Another favorable impression was the overall price of everything. Carl’s is the kind of place where you can still get change with a $10 bill. The most expensive item on the take-out menu is $8.99. A basic burger costs $3.49. A double bacon cheeseburger will set you back $7.99.
There is a Lighter Options menu that includes two items: a grilled steakhouse chicken or wrap, and a grilled chicken or steak Caesar wrap. I guess it must be the wrap options that make those choices “light.”
There are daily specials, and regular customers know enough to check Carl’s Facebook page for updates.
It’s also worth noting that Carl’s enjoys great standing in its community. It’s been around for generations and was forced to close for two months in winter 2017 because of a massive sewer-line failure. The store sustained $200,000 in damages and property losses, and Carl’s had to lay off employees during the closure. The community rallied, hosting church dinners and concerts that raised money for the employees who were out of work while the owners rebuilt.
Loyalty counts for a lot. Carl’s and Kittery have been loyal to one another for a long time.
WHERE: 25 State Road, Kittery
INFO: (207) 439-1557, on Facebook and online here.
HOURS: 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday to Saturday, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday
WAIT: Burger took 13 minutes from time of order.
PARKING: Plenty of parking in a lot
WHEELCHAIR ACCESS: Yes