Champ's Hot Dogs and More - Bodacious Dining in an Historical Landmark
Restaurant Review by Ken Stewart, The Guam Food Guy
Champ's Hot Dogs, located in Butler's Emporium in Sinajana, is not at all what you'd expect it to be. It would take a lot of imagination to conjure this place up, and as a matter of fact, it did! I'd seen a recent series of ads promoting Champ's as having the "Best Burger on Island" and to "Do the Dog", and although I had stopped by to spent time with Gerry Champion, Champ's owner, I didn't eat during that visit. I promised myself I'd get back there for a meal. Gerry is a man of his word - he is his word, just as his entire enterprise reflects his vision. To get an insight into Gerry's character and personality, the following is a statement made in his menu:
"I realize you had your choice of places to eat. I am humbled you chose mine. If anything was not right, kindly tell me. If our food and service pleased you, tell others." So, Gerry, I guess I'm telling!
Champ's is the latest in a series of concepts which have occupied this space over the years including Cafe Royale, Hobo's, and a few Mexican eateries. I think this new approach of offering big and flavorful hot dogs and hamburgers, plus old-fashioned milk shakes and fountain drinks is one that should succeed. I don't think it would be a stretch of the imagination to see Champ's and the surrounding store, Manila Bay Traders, become a visitor attraction. There simply is no other place on Guam with its collection of old signs, memorabilia, curios, collectibles, statues, period artwork, and antique gadgets. This place will totally engage your mind. It is casual, relaxed, and like eating in someone's home, with the home being nearly a museum of the arcane and droll, with signs that catch your eye every where you look. I couldn't help but burst out laughing at the humor on the surrounding walls. One sign says, "This bar is not necessarily politically correct." One could spend days looking through this enormous collection, which has elements of TGI Friday's, Jeff's Pirates Cove, and the Guam Museum, along with a ribald art and poster collection that rivals the humor of Saturday Night Live!
I didn't have a problem deciding on my lunch...I ordered a Super Dog with Mustard, Relish, Onions, Tomatoes, and Sauerkraut for $3 (I'd seen one on another customer's plate). I also ordered the "soup de jour', which happened to be an appealing French Onion, available for $4. I thought it best to go ahead and to order a burger as well, since I've been running an ongoing burger contest amongst Guam's restaurants. I ordered Champ's Hamburger, with Cheese and Bacon ($5.50 plus $,50 each for bacon and cheese). I was deliberating between a Root Beer Float ($2.25) and a Milk Shake ($3.75) without any resolution. The shakes came in a cluster of terrific sounding blends, including Chocolate, Peanut Butter, Berry, Mango, Rum Raisin, Pineapple, Vanilla, Raspberry, Blackberry, and Strawberry. My affable server, Carmen, relieved me from my perplexed state of indecision by recommending a shake not listed on the menu - a Coffee Shake.
It was the first to come...my first sip caused an "oh my gosh!" sensation! This was the real McCoy....in my fantasy I could hear the song, "ain't nothing like the real thing, baby". The shake was a perfect blend of ice cream and milk, with real coffee and little crunchy Cocoa Nuggets, that may have been flavored with Amaretto. These shakes have a depth and thickness you don't get in the machine processed shakes, which tend to pump a lot of air in the mix to fluff them up. (Speaking of air, did I mention Champ's is a smoke-free environment?)
The Hot Dog was brought out next. It was served in a long toasted bun and was filled with sauerkraut, had some red tomato pieces inside, some pickle relish, chopped onions, some pepperocini, and a 100% beef dog. I added some Bold & Spicy Brown Mustard and went to town. It was one of those hot dog experiences you get in the States..you know the build-your-own type. Yes, this was not your typical hot dog, and it was just one of many types offered, including the Taco Dog, the Pizza Dog, and the Chili Dog. Other meats available in their Sausage Sandwiches (served on a toasted French Roll) include Italian, Polish, Bratwurst, Bockwurst, Chicken & Apple, Portuguese, Chamorro, Knackwurst, and Louisiana Hot, each $5.
When Champ's Bacon Cheeseburger arrived, I just sat and stared at it, transfixed by the presentation. The bun was toasted egg with onion, the 1/3 pound patty had been char-broiled and the thick cheese atop had softened in its meltdown. There were dill pickle wedges on the paper plate along with French Fries, an onion slice, tomato, lettuce and pepperocini. A hand-woven wicker tray supported the plate, and the setting was on a woven place mat. A small side dish featured some fresh fruit in a sweet syrup with grated coconut. After adding a little mayonnaise and some American mustard, I reassembled the sandwich in its entirety, and started eating. It was superb...the kind of burger you don't put down (I didn't even bother cutting it). I just held on as I chewed it down to size. There's something about a char-broiled beef patty...just plain good eating.
Another popular sandwich on Champ's menu is the Steak Sandwich, which is served on a French Roll and loaded with onions, pickles, tomatoes, and lettuce, for $6. You can also get a Tuna Grill with Cheese for $3, and BLT with Cheese Sandwich for $4.50, and Meatloaf with Sweet Cinnamon Sauce for $4.50. Champ's also serves some International Breakfast sandwiches, including Italian Sausage & Egg ($4.50), Spanish Ham & Egg ($4.50), and German Breakfast Sandwich ($4.50).
Gerry's collection of memorabilia dates back years, with some things picked up during his Air Force days when he was stationed on the West Coast. Gerry is an ardent supporter of all branches of the military, and has various "shrines" dedicated to our service personnel. He also had an opportunity to befriend famous nature photographer, Ansel Adams, during a stint he had at Yellow Stone National Park in Wyoming. A poster of Adam's Half Dome has a spot on one of the room walls. Champ's has several rooms with dining tables, as well as tables out along the walls of the Manila Bay Trader's store. This entire complex has a legacy deeply rooted in island history, since Gerry's grandparents, Chester & Ignacia Bordallo Butler, founded Butler's in 1915. It has been the longest continuously-running family business on Guam. In 1923, the Butler's opened Guam's first Coca Cola Bottling plant. Gerry's son Chris cooks in the kitchen and Gerry's wife, Celia, is the shake mistress - what a dream job!
Champ's is open weekdays from 11am-3pm, and serves its full menu offerings during the week. On Saturdays, Champ's only serves Hot Dogs, from 11am-3pm. The store stays open until 6pm on Saturday. Call 477-3600 for take-out (costs $.25 more). I am pleased to recommend a visit to Champ's Hot Dogs and more. This place really has much more to offer customers. I'd call it "Bodacious Dining"...go there and see why!