All-American is a series that looks at beloved, longstanding North Texas eateries and examines their history while exploring how the food has changed — for the good or bad — over the years.
Mike Melios, the youngest of four brothers who all own the Melios Char Bar, isn’t thrilled with the parking situation on Greenville.
He’s happy to chat about it, however, while shooting a couple burgers from the grill to the flat top. Melios is thin with a swoop of gray hair and vibrant, energetic eyes. He speaks in spotty English — he’s from Nafpaktos, Greece — and zips around the kitchen with more energy than I’ve had in a month. He laments about the blurring hustle of Greenville Avenue.
“Traffic-wise, it’s very messy," he says. "Parking ... they have big problems, particularly on the weekend. It has changed. A lot. The people had more respect than they have today."
He tells me about how he once asked a patron to move his car. Melios shows me a middle finger to describe the response he received. Melios says the family has towed one person in 47 years of operating the Char Bar. "One person in 47 years," he says.
If you’re wondering "Wait, which place is the Melios Char Bar?" you’re probably not alone.
Melios is the Santorini-blue, tri-peaked diner-esque spot right next to the Crisp Salad Co., across from the brand-new Trader Joe’s on the ever-changing Lower Greenville. Char Bar doesn't advertise. It’s been open since 1969, and it’s a smile-inducing, char smell-soaked antique. While Greenville’s gone through a movie-like time-lapse of change, complete with the fast blur of car headlights and trendy new restaurants popping up everywhere, the Char Bar has stayed true-blue.
“We had good food, it was reasonable prices, and that’s where we stick," Melios says in bursts, his heavy Greek accent clipping some of the words. “We kept the same customers for all those years. They know what they’re going to get.”
Melios knows his target demographic.
“We’re not going to get any customers from the new millennials because they go to the places where they have drinks, and they want to socialize," he says. "For us, it’s just plain food. You come in, you eat, and you’re outta here after 10 minutes. And then you can go wherever you want, and get drunk, and ... I don’t know.”
The Char Bar’s menu has faded to an ancient orange hue. The grill and the flat top that Melios is slinging meat onto hasn’t changed since opening. The place has that worn-in look like a firm broom jab could send the whole thing crashing down. They bought it in 1969 from a company that sold restaurant equipment. The menu’s loaded with food antiques like “pork chop,” “grill cheese,” and the breakfast “saus and eggs.”
Melios removes a foil-wrapped baked potato that’s been sitting on the hot flat-top for a while, crushes it with his hands, slices it down the center, and ladles butter, sour cream and shredded cheese inside. After ordering a burger, I lean on the counter to watch Melios prep it. He shoots it from grill to griddle with a wrist flick and swipes mayo onto my bun. He’s whipping through orders himself, barely breaking a sweat, and I can’t help but look on in amazement.
Melios' four brothers take shifts running the spot, seven days a week. The Char Bar opens at 5:30 in the morning. Fluffy pancakes are popular.
“I have nobody back here besides me and my brothers,” Melios says.
He adds dill pickles, lettuce, tomato and a pile of shredded cheese to my burger. The patty is thin and cooked well-done, with little to no seasoning. The char from decades of grilling is the prominent flavor. I put in an order for chicken-fried steak too, which Melios frisbees into the deep fryer. It’s served as a gravy-smothered circle. Why is so it perfectly circle-shaped? Shh, don’t ask questions like that at the Char Bar. It’s fine. It’s all fine. The steak is tender, burn-your-brain hot and the white gravy is creamy and salty. The deep-fried breading makes it shatter sharply even under the lake of gravy.
The food's all fine, but I’m enjoying the hell out of myself on a different level. I'm loving the red brick wall, the tuft of flames from the grill, the suspicious salad bar and the giant travel photos of Greece. Looking around, I can’t help but love the unapologetic, unchanging embrace of the Char Bar among so much trend and change in Dallas.
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“It’s fast food, OK?” Melios says, as easy-going as ever. Talking with him, you forget what year it is.
“It’s going to take about 15 minutes, you’re outta here and then you move on," he says. "It’s not going to cost you arm and leg."
He flicks another cheeseburger onto the griddle with a sizzle-hiss, and like he promised, I'm out of there a few moments later.
Melios Char Bar is at 2026 Greenville Ave