- 1101 E. Burnett Ave., Louisville, KY, 40217
- (502) 637-9515
- Overall User Rating:
- (4 ratings)
- 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Monday through Saturday; 1 p.m. to 11 p.m. Sunday
The kitchen staff at Check's has never quite accepted that a bowl has finite capacity. For as long as I can remember — which dates back to the days when a bowl of bean soup cost a quarter — they've acted as if the rim of a bowl was a monstrosity to be hidden at all costs.
A bowl of meaty chili ($3.25), made with big chunks of ground beef, plenty of beans, strands of spaghetti and a ruddy, full-bodied mix of seasonings, looks like a symbol of generosity. It's as if the kitchen was sending you a message: “You're our favorite customer. We're so glad you're here that we want to give you everything we've got. Hope you can eat it all!”
Every bowl, sandwich and entrée sends the same signal. I suspect — no, I can't speak from direct experience — that Check's has been that way since it was founded in the 1930s by Check Sumpter. I know it was that way under longtime owner Joe Murrow, who took the place over in 1944. These days, it's owned by his son, Tom Murrow, who has left the spirit of the place pretty much unchanged.
And yet, the details have changed a lot, especially recently. First, the beer list, once restricted to mainstream American lagers, now includes a big selection of bottled and draft beers (including a BBC option on tap). And under new kitchen manager Bob Geary, the menu has developed some new dimensions.
I know: Even the hint that Check's is moving in “new directions” will give some folks the shudders, so I hasten to note that the important things haven't changed.
You still queue up at the bar to place your order and buy a mug of beer. The fried chicken still requires up to a half-hour wait, because it still takes a full 30 minutes to give it that sizzling hot, dark mahogany finish ($4 for a quarter chicken, breast and wing or leg and thigh). The fish sandwich still consists of two massive slabs of moist ivory-colored fish wrapped in crisp golden sheath ($6.50.).
One thing that has changed is this: You no longer have to keep track of the Check's calendar to know what days fish and chicken are available. For decades, they were offered on alternating days. Now you can have either on any day of the week — seven days a week.
This does mean that every time you step into the place you're faced with a vexing decision. On the other hand, if every vexing decision had two such desirable outcomes, the world would be a much happier place.
The sandwich offerings haven't changed. You can still get thick slabs of cold braunschweiger on rye bread, with slices of onion on request ($2.95). Burgers, pork tenderloin, bratwursts and fried bologna ($2.50) still come hot from the kitchen, held aloft by cheery folks who call your name loudly enough to be heard over the rumble of happy conversation.
Other changes? The physical environment got spiffed up a few years ago — but not in any fundamental way. The décor still consists mostly of beer signs and old photos. There's a crowded bar, an assortment of slightly wobbly tables and chairs, a back room for crowds that spill over, and patio and sidewalk seating for the smokers.
And more recently, the menu has expanded to include classic plate-lunch offerings that rotate day by day — and always include an assortment of country-style vegetables, such as nicely seasoned green beans, broccoli casserole and greens, as well as macaroni and cheese, coleslaw and potato salad (most sides are priced at $1.50).
Recently, the rotating daily specials have included tender slices of roast beef in rich brown gravy, bowls of beef stew with chunks of potato and corn, hasenpfeffer, fried chicken livers and crunchy salmon croquettes.
And yet, Check's remains the very model of a frugal Germantown pub: You'll find it impossible to spend as much as $10 on a full meal with sides.
In recent years, Germantown has become the setting for a slew of trendy clubs that serve ironic mugs of Pabst Blue Ribbon. I suspect Check's was serving PBR long before PBR went hip. It's one of those places where trends stop cold at the door, where the meaning of hip has stayed the same since the 1940s, and where the things that matter never really change: neighborly service, cold beer and good, inexpensive food served hot.