That Food Guy
Friday, January 24, 2014
  Cheddar's Casual Cafe

Cheddar’s Casual Café

4101 Park Blvd

Pinellas Park, FL 33781

727 544-8518
 My wife Janis’ Aunt Effie and Uncle Gilbert called the other day. Seems they had found a nice new place to dine out and wanted to share with us.  When someone wants to treat me to a meal where they serve good food I’m ready. Let’s go!
The Cheddar’s concept is, according to their website, the brainchild of Aubrey Good and Doug Rogers. Their vision was a casual, comfortable eatery with scratch prepared good food at reasonable prices. They opened their first establishment, located in Arlington, Texas, in 1979. They have grown sine with many, many stores in many states.

On arrival we were greeted by the maître de and shown directly to a table. It was our luck to arrive at a lull in the lunch crowd rush which was later very busy. Although the café is “casual,” the décor is more upscale than expected, much more so than other casual cafes, from their own applied description. Almost immediately we were greeted by our server, Angel, who is aptly named. She was a very personable young lady, seemingly always busy but never too busy to refill glasses or check on our progress, close at hand but never hovering.  Her attention added to the pleasure of our meal.

Cheddar’s has a full menu featuring appetizers, soups, salads and combos, a regular dinner menu as well as hot and cold sandwiches, burgers in their own little section, a low calorie section, a children’s menu, desserts. Each table has a color menu of their bar offerings, many of which are colorful and inviting. Non-alcoholic beverages, coffee, tea, soft drinks, fruit lemonade and fruit teas are offered with free refills.
This was a family get-together, time to exchange gossip and enjoy family company. That called for an appetizer and beverages so we could linger a bit before ordering. From previous visits, Uncle Gill suggested the onion rings. (Homemade Onion Rings $4.49 Hand-battered, served with homemade ranch and Cajun dipping sauce.) It is an impressive interleaved, plateful stack of onion rings. Light batter, fried crispy and golden brown, the best description I can come up with is tempura-like. Small bowls of the dipping sauces accompany the stack of onion rings. The ranch dip is very good and makes an excellent accompaniment for the excellent onion rings. The Cajun dipping sauce, on the other hand, has to be what is called an acquired taste. I really don’t want to work that hard to learn to like that sauce so if I were ever to order these onion rings again I would ask for both dipping bowls to be the ranch variety. Of note, these onion rings would also be excellent with tentsuyu, tempura dipping sauce. With the slight exception of the Cajun sauce, I consider these onion rings to be the best I have ever tasted even surpassing even the legendary stack of rings from Red Robin.
The Salads & Soup menu section offers the Ultimate Lunch Combination (Chose 2: Choice of half sandwich and one pairing $5.99, or Chose 3: Choice of half sandwich and two pairings. Sandwiches: Double Decker Club, Monte Cristo or Buffalo Chicken Wrapper. Pairings: Bowl of Soup, House Salad, Loaded Baked Potato or Caesar Salad.) Effie and Gilbert ordered the same, a Club Sandwich (Potato bread, smoked ham, turkey, bacon. Aged Cheddar cheese, lettuce, tomato and seasoned mayo) with the Chicken Tortilla Soup (Grilled chicken, tomatoes and onions simmered with Southwestern spices, grated Cheddar cheese and tortilla strips). Janis ordered from the same area of the menu. She chose the club sandwich and the Baked Potato Soup (Made fresh in our kitchen from select potatoes, celery, onions, grated Cheddar cheese and bacon). Each enjoyed their meal finding them tasteful and leaving nothing for a doggie bag. Effie and Gilbert may have found the tortilla soup spicier than they remembered and, after seeing Janis’ bowl of soup, will probably go for the baked potato soup on any future visit. Janis did enjoy her soup. It was a thick creamy soup with lots of cheese and bacon on top; comfort food for a chilly day.
The club sandwich was made without the customary middle slice of bread for a club sandwich. However, there was more than sufficient filling, turkey and ham, to make a tall sandwich that did indeed need the toothpick to hold it together. Everyone enjoyed their sandwich and as I said, nothing left to take home.

I was a bit different in my selection. I chose from the Half-Pound Burgers (Grilled medium well. Add French fries, coleslaw or red beans and rice $1.99). Of the five choices, I chose the Mushroom Swiss Burger ($5.79 Sautéed mushrooms, Swiss cheese, onions and Cheddar’s dressing). An interesting note, the mushrooms are sautéed whole mushrooms, caps and stems. The melted Swiss cheese does a good job of anchoring them on top of the meat patty. The meat was cooked medium well with just a bit of pink in the middle; still juicy and not dried out. The lettuce was fresh and crisp enough to have a mouth feel. I had wondered what they do with the center section of the onions they use for the onion rings. The answer is they chop them and they find their way into the sandwiches and presumably the soups. My hamburger had a nice scattering of the chopped onions; enough to add to the flavor but not too many to be offensive. All in all, it was a very tasty sandwich. The meat was juicy and flavorful, cooked just right, the greens crisp and fresh and there were plenty of mushrooms (always a good thing). That brings us to the Cheddar’s sauce. It had a distinct taste. It certainly didn’t taste bad. However, if I were to order this burger again, I would ask for it to be served dry with a spot of regular mayonnaise on the side instead. The French fries, cut from whole unpeeled potatoes, were cooked to a nice golden brown, were lightly salted, were not oily and had a good flavor. They were okay French fries. I did enjoy my burger and fries, a very filling meal especially with the refills of the soda.
As the dishes were cleared away the conversation continued until it was suddenly decided that dessert was in order. Gilbert ordered the Cheddar’s Monster Cookie Sundae ($4.99 A homemade skillet-baked chocolate chip cookie topped with premium vanilla ice cream, hot fudge, whipped cream, nuts and a cherry. Please allow a few minutes). A meal by itself, too big to be a solo dessert, it is meant to be shared. After a short wait, apparently the cookies are bake to order, Angel arrived with the luscious looking dessert and four long-handled spoons. Everyone dug in at once, much like a four way fencing match, spoons clanking. As a result, I didn’t get a presentation picture and I had to borrow a picture from the menu. As to how good the Monster Cookie Sundae was, all I can offer is a picture of the aftermath.

It was a very enjoyable interlude and I thoroughly enjoyed the company of the in-laws. Being their treat didn’t hurt either. The time together was great, the conversation wonderful and the food for the most part was very good. All the elements made for a most enjoyable afternoon. If a revisit to Cheddar’s is ever in the offing (even if we have to pay) we shall certainly do so. If you try them I think you will find most of their offerings to your liking.

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