Checker’s Bistro is situated on a road less traveled, and I had never come across it in my wanderings through the city. Shame, really, because had I known what I know now, I wouldn’t have been without it for so long.
On a rainy night, we raced from the car, crossed the street, threw the door open, and found ourselves in the cutest, coziest retreat, expunging any cold wetness that lingered.
We walked through a quaint bar area, filled with jovial patrons looking relaxed and comfortable. It was smartly modern, yet amorously warm, and there was a wonderful candlelit hue that cast an air of romanticism. After being seated immediately upon arrival, the hue followed throughout the surprisingly larger, but intimate space.
The menu was approachably inventive, meaning you’ll be familiar with all the ingredients, but find them culled together in a new and refreshing way. Equally impressive, was that they had an Ommegang Abbey Ale on draught. Ommegang is a micro-brewery I discovered at a recent beer fest. Its high quality Belgian-style beers are hard to beat, and the Abbey Ale did not disappoint. Wine girl converted.
As is the custom with my husband, if there’s French Onion Soup ($6) on the menu, he will order it. And right he was to do so, because after his first bite, he proclaimed it the best French Onion Soup he’d had in recent memory. Skeptically, I slid the crock over my way. After laboriously working my way through a nice sized piece of crostini and oozy cheese and ensuring I had a balanced amount of every ingredient precariously topped upon the spoon, I took my first bite. Enrapturing. While unlike any other French Onion Soup because of its thicker consistency and creamier broth, it is the best French Onion Soup I’ve had in recent memory.
An appetizer that had captured my attention since reviewing the menu online was the Peking Duck Tacos ($10.95). Out came three tacos, creatively made with fried wonton wrappers and finished with a dollop of guacamole and micro-greens on top. The duck, itself, seemed more the style of pulled pork rather than the traditional Peking Duck style I was anticipating, probably because the Peking duck refers to the species rather than style. It had a softer, mushier texture than I would have expected or liked, but nevertheless, the taste was remarkable, with hints of Chinese Five-Spice and a Hoisin sauce drizzle. And complemented by the crunchy texture of the wonton wrappers, I enjoyed it quite a bit.
We ordered the Steak Frites ($19.95) and the London Broil Steak Sandwich ($10.50) as entrees. Steak Frites, the classic French dish, comprised of a 10 oz. grilled Flat Iron steak drizzled with truffle oil and herb butter sauce, sitting atop a mound of French fries. In recent years, the Flat Iron cut has found some celebrity status, finding favor with some of the hottest chefs. It was only in the early 2000s that extensive research was done to realize the cut was the one of the most tender, just after the tenderloin. The thing was, though, that it also housed tough connective tissue that they now have figured out how to remove.
The steak was tender and cooked perfectly to medium rare. Interestingly, I caught a very slight livery taste, which is indicative of that kind of cut. It didn’t keep me from savoring the dish, but it was noticeable. The fries were nicely crispy, and in combination with the herb butter, irresistible.
The London Broil Sandwich turned out to be my favorite of the two entrees. Sliced Flat Iron steak melded with a Stilton Blue Cheese sauce and grilled onions on a toasted French baguette. It was a gourmet cheese steak sandwich, and it was utterly satisfying.
The details of the meal were all accounted for, and when my husband said, “Hey, take a bite of this pickle. It’s really good.” I knew we had to come back. When the pickle is worthy of comment, everything else on the menu probably is, too.
300 W James St