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Bargains on the Hoof

An Affordable Alternative to Pricey Steakhouses

Michelle Gienow

Chester's Steakhouse

This location is closed

By Michelle Gienow | Posted 3/6/2002

Visiting Chester's Steakhouse was, for me, a trip through the way-back machine: the type of comfortable steakhouse my parents used to splurge on for Big Occasions when I was a kid. The décor is best described as Morton's crossed with Pappy's Pizza--burgundy pleather banquettes and individual table lamps, meet checked red and white tablecloths and faux fireplace!

Chester's appears to be designed for meat fanatics who can't afford to dine regularly at super-pricey steak spots like Shula's. Case in point: Instead of joining Shula's "48 ounce club"--a three-pound porterhouse for $66--you can order the Chester's steak double, a 40-ounce rib eye for $28. So you don't get your name on a plaque for eating the whole thing. Big deal. What you do is save 38 bucks, which easily covers the remainder of a dinner for two at this reasonably priced yet classy restaurant.

The menu is marvelously straightforward, with none of the encyclopedic explanations currently so popular in upscale restaurants. Who really needs a poetic paragraph describing the pedigree and grilling technique of a pork chop or New York strip? You know what you're getting. For those on a tight budget, there's a section of affordable hamburgers and sandwiches, topping out at $8.95 for the crab-cake sandwich.

Since you oughta have some greenery before diving into the meat and spuds, we tried the grilled Caesar ($5.75), an entire head of Romaine that could easily have fed two. The lettuce, put on the grill just long enough to wilt the outside leaves and imbue the interior with a pleasant smoky flavor, was accompanied by good garlic croutons and a slightly sweet dressing that offset the light exterior char. I found a special Boursin cheese salad ($4.95) to be overdressed with a lip-puckering vinegar concoction that overwhelmed the mesclun, mushrooms, tomatoes, red onions, and cheese mix. Hey, Chester--there is a Chester, isn't there?--a little less dressing, please (it formed a pool in the bottom of the plate). And you might consider upgrading to balsamic vinegar.

As for entrées, what is there to do at a steakhouse but eat steak? One of us went for the Chester's steak, a 20-ounce rib eye very reasonably priced at $14.95. It was a nice-looking piece of meat, cooked precisely to rare as ordered, but it arrived at the table barely warm, as though it had sat for a time after leaving the grill. The thick-cut steak was not the masterpiece in dry-aged Angus beef you'd find at a pricier establishment; still, it was flavorful, reasonably tender, and thoroughly enjoyable.

Ever the contrarian, I ignored the obvious choices--and the implicit message of the hefty steak knife that arrives as a basic member of Chester's utensils setup--and went for the daily seafood special (varies, market price). The night of our visit the special was rockfish piccata ($19.95), which turned out to be excellent. A light but citrus-sharp lemon-and-caper sauce played well off the strong fish flavor of the rockfish. It was uncomplicated but deft, demonstrating that the kitchen can do more than just throw a piece of meat on the grill.

All of Chester's entrées come with a choice of potato, and there are four kinds to choose among: baked and mashed, plus french and home fries. The mashed potatoes were exemplary: not drowned in butter or tarted up with roasted garlic, just a straightforward, creamy mash, with enough lumps and body to stand up to a hefty steak. Even better were the home fries--thin-sliced, skin-on potatoes, sautéed with onions until everything in the pan melded into a chewy, buttery mass. The only disappointment among the side orders was a dish of creamed spinach ($4.50), which was watery and completely unseasoned; I lost interest after one bite.

Chester's does a bustling business, even on a weeknight. In between the salads and the entrées, we were entertained by the arrival of local celebrity weather personality Marty Bass; you'd think he, of all people, would want to avoid being seen picking up a piece of meat on Eastern Avenue. But he gave us something to talk about besides the inconsiderate asshole who was stinking up the entire restaurant with a malodorous all-night stogie. There's no meaningful partition between the bar and dining room, alas, and despite the lack of smoke-odor suppression, management hasn't seen fit to ban or contain cigars as have so many other dining establishments. The resurgence of steakhouses may be inextricably Siamese-twinned with the whole cigar-and-martini thing, but even Ruth's Chris limits the pretentious puffers to a closed-off lounge area.

Desserts at Chester's are as simple as the steak-and-potatoes menu: There's cheesecake, shortcake, and ice cream, just like I remember from the '70s steakhouse experience. I was in the mood for just a little something sweet, and the hot-fudge cake ($5.50) was just the ticket. A muffin-sized globe of rather dry, mildly chocolatey cake (my companion complained, "Two words: Duncan Hines") was resuscitated by drizzled hot-fudge sauce and gobs of whipped cream--enough to keep things interesting, if not transcendent.

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