So the missus finally decided it's time to add a winter/crap roads/dirt, gravel, schmütz/wet weather (fendered)/beater bike to her collection. She probably won't ever do a cylcocross race -- though I've learned never to say never, and once she sees a "Cross Fckin Rules" bumper sticker she may get the fever -- so she's basically looking for something that can get her in more-or-less the same position as her road bikes, but that will accept fenders and big tires and be essentially bombproof. Her girlfriend has been raving about the Surly Cross Check, so now wife wants one too.
Is there any other frame/fork in a similar price range & with similar accoutrements that might be a better value, or that would be a marked improvement?
Note: If money were no object she'd be all over one of these: http://www.strongframes.com/frames_&_pricing/special/ because A) that's exactly the sort of functionality she's looking for, and B) we love the road bikes Carl built for us last year. Sadly, we're on a Surly, Salsa, Soma budget this year. So basically we're talking ~$500 for frame & fork, ±3dB.
Anything else she should be looking at, or is the Cross Check fine for her needs & budget?