Until recently, Checkers’ biggest culinary claim to fame was that Thomas Keller headed the kitchen before opening The French Laundry. The vintage hotel near downtown’s Central Library may finally have sometime new to hype: Chef Todd Allison, a long-time protégée of James Boyce at Studio and a veteran of the St. Regis. Over the past year, Chef Allison has slowly retooled the menu, and Checkers is gradually earning a reputation for its food, and not just as a power lunch spot.
So far, Checkers’ breakout special is “Four.” Every Thursday night from 4 PM – 8 PM, Chef Allison is treating the lounge like a test kitchen, preparing four different small plates that cost $4 apiece. If a happy hour dish is a hit, he plans to super-size the dish into a restaurant appetizer or entree. The October 29 menu consisted of Oysters on the half-shell with watermelon granite, Spanish Chorizo Sausage with roasted peppers, onions and whole-grain mustard (pictured), Charred Salmon Belly with cured lemon and ginger salad, and Vichyssoise with purple Peruvian potato chips.
Each week, you’ll also find a different spirit and four $4 cocktails (or wines). Last night featured Ultimat Vodka, a brand that combines wheat, rye and potato-based vodkas. Coming up, Checkers Restaurant Manager Tyler Dow is hosting Freemark Abbey (November 5), Martin Miller’s Gin (November 19), Belgian beer (November 19), Cambria Winery (December 3) and Crème Yvette + Partida Tequila (December 10).
At dinner, Chef Allison is preparing dishes like Gilroy Roasted Garlic and Fava Bean Angnolotti with Chanterelle mushrooms, crispy pancetta and English pea coulis; Maine Diver Sea Scallops with English peas, crisp pork belly, white bean puree and tangerine glaze; and Harissa Rubbed Alaskan Halibut with Braised Cipollini, fennel, smoked tomato and saffron broth.