Champps Americana is a chain of upscale sports bars that began in the Twin Cities in the mid 80's. Their focus has been on burgers, beer and sports since day one. I hadn't been into a Champps for quite sometime, but I recently decided to stop into the one in Schaumburg, IL for lunch after visiting one of the Tweeter stores located next door.
Champps started out in St. Paul in 1985 when Dean Vlahos opened the first location. Vlahos grew the business to over 30 locations about ten years later. Vlahos then sold the company to a corporation that became known as Champps Entertainment, Inc. located in a Denver suburb. Champps Entertainment then grew the restaurant base to over 60 locations in 22 states. Earlier this year, the Daka restaurant group, known as Unique Casual Restaurants, Inc. which also owns the majority of the Fuddrucker's restaurants in the nation, bought the chain from Champps Entertainment. And I do like Fuddrucker's, so they have that going for them.
You'll mainly find most of the Champps American restaurants near large shopping areas. The one in Schaumburg is just down Golf Road from Woodfield Mall (see map). If you're heading east on Golf, it's easy to get in and out. But if you're heading west on Golf, it's probably best to take a left on Meacham or Plum Grove and come around through the back on American Lane. Traffic at times on Golf Road can be a pain in the ass, especially if you're trying to make a left turn with no stoplight.
Now, I'm going to tell you that I broke two of my cardinal rules with my visit to Champps. One - I don't like to eat at national chains that are cookie cutter venues; and Two - I ordered the Cuban Sandwich and I wasn't in Miami. But it was in the middle of the afternoon, I wasn't feeling all that peppy. I needed food and something to drink and Chammps was right next door to where I was.
I sat at the bar and watched some of the Cubs game on one of the many televisions in the restaurant. The bartender gave me a menu and I ordered up a Coke as I still had some calls to make that day. It was around 2:30 and there were a handful of people in the bar area, many having late lunches or finishing up with lunch meetings. There was a die-hard Cubs fan across the bar from me, dressed in a Cubs jersey and shouting, "Oh, yeah, baby!" when the Cubs did something good on the field; or he would shout, "Oh, man! What are you thinking?" when something would go wrong. He was taking a regular season game a little too hard.
Burgers are what made Champps famous and they have five to choose from on their burger menu. But I wasn't really looking for a burger during that visit. I took a look through their specialty entree and pasta menus, but thought that would be too much food for that time of day. Although I have to say the Cajun Shrimp Penne Pasta and the Peppercorn Chicken sounded pretty good.
I went to the sandwich menu and took a look to see what they had. Hmmm... Tuna melt. No, not up for that. Gyros? No, come on. A place like this can't make a good gyro. Reuben. Naw, I've been eating a lot of Reuben's lately and I'm getting burned out on them. Hmmm... What's this? Pulled pork sandwich topped with Tabasco onion rings and served on a sesame seed bun. Crap - I just had barbecue the night before. It did sound good, though.
But my eyes kept darting to the top of the sandwich menu where they were showing a picture of the Havana - a traditional Cuban sandwich of pulled pork, ham, swiss cheese, dijon mustard and pickles pressed together on a small loaf of sweet bread. But my brain kept saying, "Hang on a minute. You KNOW you've never had a good Cuban sandwich outside of Miami."
The picture made it look so good, though. It LOOKED like the Cuban sandwich I'd had in Miami in the past. And those things are just incredible. I kept looking at the descriptions of the barbecued pulled pork sandwich and the Havana. Barbecue - Cuban Sandwich. And I don't know what made me blurt out, "I'll take the Havana" when the bartender finally asked me what I wanted. I knew well before I took the first bite that I'd regret my choice.
About 10 minutes later, a waitress brought out my Cuban sandwich. It looked good and definitely smelled good, but the comparisons to the Miami Cuban sandwiches stopped there. Oh, the roasted pulled pork and ham were fine. I like the combination of the pickle slices and dijon mustard. But the bread - which literally MAKES Cuban sandwiches great - was nowhere near as good as the soft sweet bread I've had in Miami.
Now this is what a REAL Cuban sandwich looks like, picture courtesy of Taste of Cuba and Off the Broiler. The Chammps Americana Havana sandwich - and other Cuban sandwiches I've had like this outside of Miami - are made with a panini-style bread which is then heat pressed. It's not that same.
Oh, well. It was still edible, but I literally kicked myself when a guy down the bar from me ordered the pulled pork sandwich. It was served open faced with the spicy onion rings on top. God! And I'm sitting there eating some northern version of a Cuban sandwich.
For a chain, Champps is OK, nothing that I would call special. It's like a lot of other sports bars that have popped up over the past 20+ years. The food is good, but not great. The beer selection is good, but not great. And the ambiance and atmosphere is also good, but not great. It would be a good place to go watch a game with some friends and to get some serviceable food. But it's not a place that I would seek out to have a meal at anytime soon.