Hours: 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. daily.
Atmosphere: Down home casual.
Price range: 85-cent soup to $8.95 steaks.
Credit cards: MasterCard, Visa.
Special facilities: Free parking; carryout; daily specials; booster seats; inaccessible to wheelchairs.
Driving down Central Avenue recently to visit some friends in Annapolis, we pulled into a parking lot to find a bathroom in a hurry. What we found was a big liquor store fronting the entire side of the building and, inside, a stuffed moose head almost the size of our Toyota.
The clerk waved us past the liquor bottles toward the rear of the building where, lo and behold, what should we find but sparkling clean bathrooms and one of the most unusual 17-table restaurants in our dining experience.
Champs was opened almost a year ago by some natives who wanted good, cheap food they could understand and enjoy.
Everything that can be is obtained locally, and Momma comes in once a week to make the spaghetti sauce herself. Her kids fuss over the crabcakes, fiddle with the salad makings and tinker with the vegetables as only the staff of a family-owned restaurant can. In the end, you either like their vision of eating or you just keep on down the highway.
We've have been back to Champs several times and have come to enjoy the untutored wholesomeness of the place. After a recent day on the water with friends, we arrived at Champs sunburned, hungry and a little fussy. Our party of four adults and four kids, ages 5 to 12, after the obligatory stop before the moose head in front, settled down in the luxurious chill of the air-conditioned dining room to feast and relax.
After a greeting and quick delivery of cool drinks by our waitress, we focused on on selecting from the small menu. Our options were simple: two soups, six dinners and eight hearty sandwiches, with three desserts and the usual side orders. Soups cost 85 cents, and the biggest steak dinner reached $8.95.
For the kids, ordering at Champs is always easy. The 8-year-old chose that day's special, the homemade spaghetti dinner ($3.95), a heaping plate of thin noodles cooked to perfection and topped with a rich tomato sauce with two hefty meatballs. A good-sized salad and two big hunks of garlic bread accompanied the dish.
The 5-year-old found bliss in the basic burger ($2.25), which comes thick and tasty with a large pile of big fried potatoes and some pickles.
Another child chose the roast beef sandwich ($2.95), a huge one of tender roast beef served on a kaiser roll with crisp lettuce and tomato slices and french-fried potatoes. It was more than enough for an adult, much less a child.
My wife surrendered to a steak sandwich with melted provolone cheese on a sub roll ($3.25), a mountainous sandwich that even the hearty eater would have trouble finishing. The meat, moreover, was tender and tasty, with none of the stringiness occasionally encountered in steak sandwiches.
Reuben corned beef sandwiches ($3.50) came heaped with meat, stacked with zesty sauerkraut, provolone cheese and russian dressing.
The basic ham and cheese sandwich was equal to anything I've created at the refrigerator on a rainy Saturday afternoon. For $2.65, it is perhaps the most generous and compelling item on the menu.
My crabcake sandwich ($3.95) was equally satisfying, a homemade crabcake spiced and rolled right in the kitchen and served on a sesame seed bun with a heap of potato chips and pickles. It captured the texture and flavor of crabcakes just the way I like them.
Adding to the charm of Champs, for me at least, is its use of fresh ingredients. Salads, for example, are made of crisp iceberg lettuce, sliced radishes and green peppers and onions, and are topped with great chunks or slices of tomatoes right out of the garden. Not only do all the fresh colors provide a visual treat, but the salad tastes good and is not drowned in dressing.
It's pleasant to spend an hour eating at Champs. For the kids there are video games, and on Thursdays through Saturdays a local duo comes in to entertain. The music is country, some pop and a little jazz, all done without burdening guests with too great a demand on their time or attention.
And, of course, if the kids get too bored, you can always walk them out to behold what's got to be the biggest moose head in the state of Maryland. All of this, and our last tab was only $39.13.