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$10 Challenge: Check’s Cafe

The gentrification of Germantown is on display across the two and four-tops of Check’s Café.

Thirtysomethings new to Germantown sit elbow to elbow with boomers who may have been visiting Check’s for decades. But the atmosphere isn’t so much oil and vinegar as it is peanut butter and jelly — two distinctively different personalities that are enhanced once they come together. 

This Germantown neighborhood favorite combines humble, diner-style food with the buzz and tight quarters of a bar to attract a diverse clientele that includes families, couples, singles and any stray in between.

There’s no room for pretension at Check’s, located on East Burnett Avenue. It’s too crowded for big egos, and a do-it-yourself attitude is pervasive. The Check’s economy removes hosts and servers from your dining experience. In return, you receive a meal memorable for its down-home taste and prices to match.

You step right into the dining room instead of a waiting area in this unassuming brick building, so watch out for the folks seated by the door. Make a left and order at the bar. The menu is posted high on the wall to the right of the register; specials are scrawled on a dry-erase board underneath the main offerings. Find a seat (there’s a room up a step in the back if the main dining room is full) and wait for a food runner to shout your name as he exits the kitchen. Somehow, you always manage to hear him call your name over the din.

DD2_0297The menu is equal parts bar fare and hole in the wall. The appetizer selection would be perfect for game-time gluttony, including hot wings (10 for $6.95), chili cheese fries ($5.75) or, if you want to pretend to be healthy, breaded and fried broccoli bites ($4.95).

I turn to the entrees when I get a little nostalgic for the simple food that I used to eat with reckless abandon, oblivious of calorie counts. It’s not too often that you come across a fried bologna sandwich on rye ($3.50) or fried chicken (a leg and a thigh or a breast and a wing, $4.75).

The sandwiches are the stand-out at Check’s. I have a soft spot for the fish sandwich ($7.50), a wedge of cod served on grilled rye bread. The sauce that coats an enormous chicken breast on the buffalo chicken sandwich ($6.75) begins to sting your nostrils as soon as the tray hits the table.

On my last visit, I went for the open-face roast beef sandwich with mashed potatoes and Brussels sprouts for $7.95. If you see this on the dry-erase board, change any plans you had for another order. This dish is worth at least one try, if not more. A stack of thinly sliced roast beef covers two pieces of white bread. A healthy coating of thick brown gravy covers the meat and mound of mashed potatoes.

The bread disintegrates under the weight of it all. This is a sandwich that requires a knife and fork to fully enjoy, and enjoy it you will. The meat is tender, the gravy is hot. It’s a dish that requires you to take in a bit of meat, mashed potato and sprout on the same bite for optimum enjoyment. It reminded me of Sunday dinners at my mother’s house, when she had a whole day to roast meat low and slow for a juicy, delicate main dish.DD2_0187

Next time, if I’m feeling especially nostalgic and carb-hungry, I might sub out the Brussels sprouts for macaroni and cheese.

A few more dollars will let you cap off your night with an adult beverage, but $10 will cover a hearty meal in a place that hums with laughter and conversation. Hang around long enough, and you might even catch some karaoke.

The Bottom Line:
Open-face roast beef sandwich (with two sides): $7.95
Soft drink: $1.50
Total (without tax and tip): $10.02
Mission: Accomplished (close enough)

Check’s Cafe  | 1011 East Burnett Ave. | (502) 637.9515

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