- Kat Robinson
- SATISFYING: CHeddar's Key West Chicken and Shrimp.
There are several restaurants that fall within the sphere of typical middle-class restaurant. Chili’s, Applebee’s and TGIFriday’s are pretty interchangeable in this matter.
Not so much with Cheddar’s Casual Café. The chain spanning the South and the Midwest features a lot of hearty sandwiches, lush sandwiches, steaks, half-pound burgers and the like — but it’s more about the food than the décor or the attitude or the flair you might get from those other establishments.
My dining companion and I dropped by for lunch at the Fort Smith location recently (the new Little Rock location on University by Target just opened). We started off with the cheese dip, which we suspected might be Cheddar-heavy, after the restaurant’s name. Not quite. The Chips & Homemade Queso ($3.99) is a platter of thick fried tortilla chips accompanied by a very Velveeta-and-Rotel-ish dip, offered with ground beef at no additional charge. We passed on the ground beef but savored especially the salsa that came with the cheese dip — cumin heavy, onion heavy and with nice fresh overtones.
My dining companion’s selection for the afternoon was the Grilled Portabella Ciabata $6.99), a big fat sandwich packed with thick mushroom slices, seared tomatoes, herbed mayonnaise, spring mix and Fontina cheese. The ciabata roll gives heft to a meat-less sandwich and it eats well, nicely savory with the salty cheese. He chose a loaded baked potato sans bacon for his side, and it came out piled high with Cheddar cheese.
I was much better pleased with the heart of my dish, the Key West Chicken & Shrimp ($8.99). A nicely grilled chicken breast topped with a pineapple based pico de gallo and grilled shrimp, the chicken was nicely flavored and not overdone while the shrimp were salty but firm. I loved the pico’s sweetness. The chicken breast was served up on a small bed of rice.
What was questionable was the side items. I chose beans and rice after being assured they were vegetarian-friendly; it came out with a nice piece of pork summer sausage on top. Fortunately, there was no issue in switching it out with corn. The broccoli that came along with the meal was nicely steamed. I found my favorite part of the meal, though, came with dipping the broccoli in the aforementioned cheese dip.
We passed on dessert but a nearby table ordered the Cheddar’s Legendary Monster Cookie ($3.99) — a big chocolate chip cookie cooked in a skillet and served warm with ice cream on top. It’s a nice massive affair, a lovely thing to have if you’re trying to feed your sweet tooth, but I’d recommend sharing it with a friend.
The Cheddar’s we went to is located at the Fort Smith Pavilion off Phoenix Avenue at I-540; as I mentioned, there’s a new one on University in Little Rock. Check out the website for more information.