Char House on the Boulevard Quickly Becomes a Local Hot Spot
The Sizzle of Upscale Casual Dining Rises From the Flames
WHEELING — Braxton Nolte and his father, Jim, had a clear vision in mind when they set out to bring a metropolitan-style restaurant to the Ohio Valley, and that focus has resulted in undeniable success.
Located at 1055 E. Bethlehem Blvd. — the former Ernie’s Esquire — the Char House on the Boulevard has been making a big splash since opening its doors this summer. In fact, if you’re planning a special dinner there on a weekend, you’d better call several days ahead to make a reservation.
The Noltes operate a number of different local businesses — Braxton works in investments, and Jim is president of Shirts ‘N More, as well as other ventures. The restaurant business is new territory for the father-son duo, but judging from the eyebrow-raising atmosphere and the mouth-watering menu items at the Char House on the Boulevard, you’d never imagine that this home run swing came from their first at-bat in the food service game.
While COVID-19 has crippled many other restaurants this year and has affected the Char House in terms of regulations on seating capacities and other social distancing guidelines, this new restaurant opened during the heart of the pandemic … to great success.
“We had a two-week soft opening beginning July 6,” Braxton said. “It’s been a very good response. We’re very busy every night. We’re trying to bring a kind of a big city vibe to Wheeling with the food and the atmosphere and the cocktail menu and the wines. It’s open to anyone. We have a lot of people come through our doors.”
The Char House on the Boulevard captures a swanky, upscale sizzle while still embracing a rustic and cozy feel that is very welcoming.
A 2013 graduate of Wheeling Catholic Central High School, Braxton Nolte studied international law, international investments and finance at Thomas Moore University near Cincinnati.
“I still work in investments really, and when I moved back, I felt there was a need for more of an upper-scale, casual restaurant around here,” Braxton said. “I just feel like there’s a need here in Wheeling. It’s great for the younger crowd. There’s not a lot to do for people in my age group — I’m 25 — there’s not a lot of places to go and have kind of a big-city experience.”
Initially, the Noltes eyed downtown Wheeling for their restaurant venture, but when that didn’t pan out right off the bat, they took interest in the old Ernie’s Esquire building in Bethlehem.
With the Char House, patrons range from young professionals who enjoy the sleek motif and 20-plus craft beers on tap, to older customers who have fond memories of the iconic local restaurant that operated for many years at that site.
“Ernie’s Esquire was a special place to a lot of people,” Braxton said. “I’ve heard hundreds and hundreds of stories from people who come in to check the place out.”
The look is different, as the site has undergone a complete renovation with a unique upper-scale, casual theme and atmosphere.
“We have the pulley lights, a lot of wood and old steel,” Braxton said. “We have some artifacts here that were made at Wheeling-Pittsburgh Steel. There are some special things outside at the bar — the metal work is from Erie, Pa., and our outdoor bar shelf is the old Ernie’s Esquire coat rack. So we tried to incorporate the Wheeling area as much as we could, with the industrial look of the steel mills here. We try to put a little bit of Wheeling flare in.”
While still developing the menu prior to opening, the crew mastered its skills on a key element to the kitchen — a wood-fired oven. They perfected signature steaks and other food items, along with specialty wood-fired pizzas — all of which were baked over flames to a perfect darkened crisp.
“Everyone kept saying they were ‘charred,'” Nolte explained. “Hence, that’s how we basically got the Char House — and it’s on Bethlehem Boulevard, so we became the Char House on the Boulevard.”
Many of the menu items are not only charred to perfection, but also are branded — literally. They proudly take ownership in their signature sandwiches by having the restaurant’s name and logo branded into the buns.
“We have our own bourbon label coming soon,” Braxton said, noting that he’s working with a distiller in Kentucky where the special bourbon will be barreled. The house bourbon will be featured among the restaurant’s already exclusive bourbon selection and wine list.
“We have live entertainment every Friday night, and on the second Saturday of the month, we do a comedy night,” Braxton said. “We’re starting to have craft brew nights. Right now we have seven craft brew companies that are going to come up and do a pairing with different beers. In the future, we kind of want to do a bourbon-cigar night. There’s a lot of things we want to do, but COVID has kind of put a limit on it.”
Entertainment has been taking place on the stylish patio area, complete with ambiance lighting at night and colorful parasails for shade during the day.
“Outside is all stone with concrete tables, a concrete bar and parasail shades,” Braxton said. “We have old, reused barn wood from the area. The patio kind of feels like you’re at the beach somewhere.”
They plan to have the popular patio area enclosed soon to allow for year-round use.
The Char House on the Boulevard is open daily for lunch and dinner, with brunch on Sundays.
“Our lunch menu consists of a lot of unique sandwiches and burgers, and our wood-fire pizzas,” Braxton said. “The dinner menu is comprised of everything from a double-bone pork chop, a high-quality beef, center-cut fillet, New York strip, Cowboy Rib Eye, French veal and pastas, plus burgers, sandwiches and pizzas, as well. For our appetizers, we have the old Ernie’s Seafood Coquille, which was a big staple here. We do have the Ernie’s hummus, along with scallops and crab cakes. So we do have a variety from regular to unique specialty items.”
There are indoor and outdoor dining areas, as well as the Esquire Room in the back for business meetings, holiday parties and special events.
Currently, the staff at the Char House has 31 employees, including cooks, managers, wait staff, cleaning crew and bartenders. The vast majority of employees are local people, including chefs originally from the Ohio Valley who left the area but moved back.
“We’re still new, but we want to build from this,” Braxton said. “We want to build off of our brand. We always have different ideas with the menu items. This Friday (today), we’ll release our fall cocktail menu. We’ll have some more seasonal beers for the fall and winter. We just want to keep the momentum going.”
Some plans for the future are already in the works, Braxton hinted. But for now, the main focus is on giving customers at the Char House on the Boulevard the best experience they can.
“When people come here on their anniversary or on a date, we want them to have and hour and a half or two hours of their special time. I’m just happy when people walk in the door and say ‘you have a nice place,’ that they’re very happy with their meal or mention it’s a great atmosphere. We’re starting to get a lot of repeat customers. I love it, and I’m just hoping for continued success. Just to offer something in Wheeling where people can go — a place that feels like a big city restaurant.
“We just want to do our best with the service and the quality of food and keep the atmosphere correct to keep people happy,” he said. “I don’t see myself leaving anytime soon. This is something we’ve always wanted to do, and I really enjoy it. “
The Char House on the Boulevard is open from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. on Friday and Saturday.
For dinner Thursday nights and on the weekends, it is highly recommended that reservations be made several days in advance, although they do try their best to accommodate walk-ins and maintain a call list in case of cancellations.
Visit charhouseontheboulevard.com or visit the official Facebook and Instagram pages. Call 304-905-1873 for reservations, catering, carryout or online ordering and delivery service options.