Champions 105 W. Broad St., Falls Church 241-4112 Hours: 11 a.m. to midnight seven days a week; bar open until 2 a.m. Prices: Appetizers $2.35 to $4.95; entrees $5.25 to $11.95. Cards: MasterCard, Visa, Diners Club, American Express, Choice. Nonsmoking section available.
Cal Ripken's baseball spikes, Jim Brown's football jersey, George Starke's Redskins helmet and Magic Johnson's basketball sneakers are just some of the sports memorabilia on display at this two-month-old restaurant.
In this combination sports saloon/singles bar, the emphasis is on casual. Even the energetic servers wear shorts, part of their referee-style uniforms.
The decor -- apart from the colorful sports miscellany adorning the walls -- is plain and simple: wooden bar stools and tables, orange-and-tan tile floor, satellite-fed television sets everywhere, even over the parquet dance floor where a DJ spins records after 9 p.m.
A bulletin board in the lobby lists the week's TV sports events.
This is as much a meeting place as an eating place, where you might actually hear somebody say, "Haven't I seen you somewhere before?"
Indeed, that was my thought when I opened the menu and noticed the striking resemblance between the offerings here and those at another new restaurant I had recently visited. Although it's not clear who was first -- the management at both professed surprise at the similarities -- the two kitchens turn out nearly identical salads and hamburgers, cheese toast with their salads, milkshakes with three scoops of ice cream and an egg, and similar desserts.
At the same time, the menu at the new Champions has less in common with the menu at the original Champions, a Georgetown bar with light fare.
At a sports bar, you ought to be able to count on a thick juicy burger, and my charcoal-broiled bacon Dijon hamburger did not disappoint, despite an overdose of Dijon mustard. The best of the burger side dishes is the crisp, brown french fries, but the coleslaw was too creamy and the small portion of baked beans tasted like the canned kind.
While the chicken tenders were nicely executed, overcharring marred the lemon chicken, which was cut up for a salad, and its barbecued cousin.
It's too bad there is only one fish dish -- the daily special -- because the kitchen does a skillful job, judging from two perfectly cooked examples: a lemony pan-fried flounder at $7.95, and a baked bluefish fillet at its peak of freshness and flavor at $10.75. Each was accompanied by the vegetable of the day -- tasty slices of zucchini with the bluefish, and yellow squash with the flounder.
Not all of the other dishes turned out as well. The barbecued ribs, bathed in a sauce with a nice sweet-and-sour balance, were a little short on rich, meaty flavor.
A couple of appetizers also fell into the acceptable-but-not-great category. For example, the generous dollop of guacamole with onions and tomatoes had too much lemon. While the chips had a good corn flavor, the salads tasted mostly of salt. The chili was a bit thin, although nicely seasoned with cumin.
Salads are not a strong suit here. On recent visits, the mostly iceberg lettuce mixtures had too many chunks from the core, and pale, woody tomatoes. The dressings didn't help -- both the vinaigrette and honey-mustard were too sweet, and the buttermilk-garlic too bland.
The desserts are weak, too. The better of the two was the brownie a la mode with nice crusty edges. The deep-dish apple pie had tasty walnuts, but little else to recommend it. Diners might consider saving dessert calories for a thick milkshake: chocolate, banana, vanilla, strawberry and mocha with a touch of Kahlua are available.
Plans are afoot to open Champions saloons in Baltimore and Atlanta. The owners ought to try a little harder with this franchise before starting a new league.