When we stepped into Chuck's Restaurant, the small and unassuming spot was all too eerily familiar. It's like thousands of other typical neighborhood diners around the country that time has forgotten faded walls, a torn booth seat here and there, filmy curtains that block the midday glare of the bleached-out highway outside, a cheery bustle in the kitchen.
The Colonialtown fixture has played host to a series of diners and soda fountains, dating back to 1918. Still, it's the kind of place you could drive by a thousand times without it catching your eye. And a lot of people do just that. All the better for the mixed crowd of regulars from tattooed artists to bankers in three-piece suits who contribute to a large part of the charm here.
Current owners Peter and Georgina Courtley, a British couple who bought the business in 1993, are up at 4 a.m., six days a week, getting ready for the first wave of breakfast-club arrivals. If you want your pick of the day's offerings, get there early because sometimes they run out.
Chuck's serves gallons of sausage gravy over biscuits ($2.75) every day. This staple is to Chuck's what the Big Mac is to McDonald's, and it has to be tried at least once. The subtly spicy sausage gravy so light and feathery, it almost fools you into thinking that you're not clogging your arteries with cream and butter is smoothed over sweet, hot biscuits that make you want to beg for more.
If you're into scrambled eggs, bacon or grits ($3.80), team them up with a short stack of hot cakes ($3), either plain or with blackberries ($3.50). The cakes are impressively crisp around the edges, yet spongy enough to soak up all you care to pour from the pitcher of maple syrup. Scoops of whipped butter collapse into it all, like melting snowballs.
In keeping with the owners' background, there are rotating British favorites. Try the "magnificent seven," a standard eggs, bacon, sausage, hash browns and grits deal, save the traditional baked beans ($5). At lunchtime, specials range from shepherd's pie to bangers and mash ($3.75), in addition to triple-decker sandwiches, burgers, Reubens, daily soups from scratch, homemade milk shakes and strawberry shortcake.
The allure of Chuck's Restaurant is as much its solid, simple fare as its low profile. One can only hope that the Courtleys don't undertake any renovations or add anything remotely trendy to the menu. That would spoil everything.