"I can't find my car keys," my friend Stephen says over the phone. It's just after 11am, and our plans for an early lunch have vanished with his keys. An hour later it's clear to us that the keys have anthropomorphized, packed a bag and walked out the door for good, so he gets a new key cut. It's 3pm when we're winding through Bayers Lake, looking for Cheachie's Grill & Lounge.
Without the luxury of the towering signage of a chain, the bland, grey storefront is a needle in a concrete haystack. Inside, however, the restaurant is huge. A bar stands across a wide-open space adjoining a sprawling dining room. Faux-leather booths and chairs fill the quiet, beige space.
Stephen has been here once before, about a week ago. "You got the tacos last time," our friendly server says as we think out loud about our order. Stephen doesn't want to repeat himself, but sticks with the Mexican part of the menu, which also includes pasta, burgers and pizza. He gets the Mexican grilled cheese ($9.50), adding chicken ($3.95). I order the Big Earl Burger ($12.95) with a knowing nudge from the server. We also decide to split the onion stack ($4.95).
It's a bit of a wait, but eventually the freshly fried onions arrive in a huge bowl. It's a crispy nest of onion curls with an airy, pale golden batter crumbling off the sweet, tender strips. Our server tells us that the accompanying chipotle mayo was just mixed and might not have much of a kick---she is right, it is a bit dull---so returns a moment later with three hot sauces. Even with a lengthy wait for our entrees we can't make it halfway through the bowl.
When our server---who by this point treats us like old pals---eventually drops by huge plates that convince us that we won't be revisiting the onions, but she leaves them with a wink and a "just in case."
The Big Earl burger is big, indeed, with a pile of fresh handcut fries and a little cup of lightly curried coleslaw leaning against it on the plate. The thick eight-ounce slab of ground beef is sliding off the big, soft kaiser, teetering on a foundation of lettuce, tomato and mayo. BBQ sauce spills over a handful of onion rings and a criss-cross of bacon into a bubbling lake of cheddar cheese.
I cut the burger in half so I can actually handle it. The patty is obviously homemade, super tender and very tasty with the salty, smoky bacon and rich cheese. Beyond the patty itself, there's nothing special about the burger, but really, there doesn't have to be. It's delicious. The fries are also good, though an almost unnecessary accompaniment to the giant burger. They aren't crisp, but they have the fresh, earthy flavour of a good homecut fry. Only a few bites into the second half of the burger and with a pile of fries still left, I give up, too full to continue.
The cheese tortilla is good, though not as inspired as the burger. The grilled flatbread is stuffed with melted cheese and chunks of tender chicken, with a bit of smoky flavour in the background, but it falls a little flat. It's paired with a zesty pico de gallo and guacamole. The chunks of tomato and onion in the salsa bring a needed brightness to the sandwich, but the guacamole is a bit bland. It's served with good, if forgettable, Caesar salad, which is loaded with bacon and homemade croutons and a nice creamy dressing.
As we pay our bill and say our goodbyes, we think how easy it would be to become a regular at Cheachie's. In one visit I was made to feel at home, and by two they knew Stephen's face, probably well enough to give him his keys back if he lost them there. To put it simply, that's pretty nice.