Where: Cheezee's, 1410 Maley Hollow Road, Dayton, Tenn.
Hours: 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday-Saturday
Price range: $2.49 (hot dog)-$5.49 (triple hamburger)
The lights are on in the windows again, but customers of Cheezee's in Dayton, Tenn., won't find the Southern-style cooking that originated there several years ago. After sitting empty for several months, the restaurant on Maley Hollow Road, just off the Highway 27 Bypass, has reopened under new ownership and been reinvented as a burger joint.
Former customers who liked the meat-and-three plates shouldn't be put off by the new menu. The food is fresh, tasty and served up fast.
Cheezee's new menu is a model of simplicity. There are burgers in three sizes, hot dogs with or without chili, three sandwich selections and chicken tenders. Fries, onion rings, colas and shakes round out the offerings.
You can get in and out for as little as $2.49 for a hot dog and for no more than $5.49 for a triple-decker burger. In the midrange are the four-piece chicken tenders, served with honey mustard or barbecue sauce, for $3.99, and the single and double burgers for $3.49 and $4.49 (add 25 cents for cheese, 75 cents for bacon).
Sandwiches range from $2.99 for a grilled cheese to $4.99 for a grilled chicken breast.
Hand-dipped milkshakes, $3.49, come in vanilla, chocolate or strawberry flavors. Tea and soft drinks are priced at $1.49, $1.99 and $2.49.
The Lil' Cheezee Meal offers four kid-friendly options, plus fries or onion rings, milk or juice, for $3.49.
We visited on a recent Wednesday evening. After our initial surprise that we wouldn't be having meat loaf or mashed potatoes, we opted for a chili dog ($3.49) and a BLT ($3.99). We were debating over splitting an order of fries or onion rings when our order taker, Sami, suggested we try the half fries/half rings option ($2.79). An excellent recommendation.
A late lunch had left me without my usual farmhand appetite, so I ordered a chili dog. Cheezee's hot dogs are made with all-beef wieners, and they're substantial, easily an inch in diameter. I always fear that a hot dog ordered at the end of the day might come to the table with one of those shriveled wienies you see on the rotisserie at gas stations. But this one was big, juicy and perfectly cooked. I ordered coleslaw on top for an extra quarter. I wish I'd ordered a sprinkling of onions as well, but by the time I had read through the menu's list of free toppings, I had already eaten most of my dog.
For the BLT, two thick slices of bread had been buttered and grilled, then stuffed with tomatoes, lettuce and a generous amount of bacon. My dining companion has the same reverence for "Bacon!" as does the dog in those Beggin' Strips commercials, so the plentiful portion brought a smile.
The menu promises fresh-cut sides, and our fries-and-rings combo lived up to expectations. The rings had a nice light batter that stayed on the onion slices. The fries were obviously hand-cut and fried in the kitchen. They were delicious.
You'll order and pay at the counter when you enter. A large version of the menu is posted on the wall, or you can consult one of the paper take-away menus stacked on the counter.
Sami negotiated our fries/rings debate before we had thoroughly read the menu, which saved time for all of us.
We got our own drinks and condiments and found a table. Another server brought our food a few minutes later and asked if we needed anything else. With that setup, there's little interaction with the servers, but the two on duty were friendly and helpful.
A fresh coat of white paint has brightened up Cheezee's one large dining room. The floors are white-and-black vinyl tiles; the tabletops are red; short black valances hang above each window. The space is about evenly divided with booths along two outside walls and tables in the center.
Everything appeared spic-and-span while we were there. During down times, the servers straightened up the drink/condiment bar and swept, though there didn't seem to be a stray crumb to be found.
It wasn't what we expected to find when we opened the door, but we were glad we stayed. There's such a clean-cut, "Happy Days" vibe, we half expected to see Joanie and Chachi sitting in the next booth.
We hope to go back soon to try a cheeseburger or chicken tenders and more of those fries and rings. There are plenty of fast-food restaurants in Dayton, but Cheezee's gives its fast food a touch of home cooking.
Contact staff writer Lisa Denton at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6281.