Diner: A Beat Ahead

Chester's remains a classic, while reinventing itself

Since 1972, Chester's Road House has been drawing an audience from surrounding eastern neighborhoods, as well as tourists, corporate mavens, prom dates and, very likely, a few folks who've managed to navigate from western Hamilton County. The casual, upscale ambiance and good food that seemed just a beat ahead of the trends portrayed on the Food Network contributed to the bustling activity we witnessed just before 7 p.m. on a weeknight.

We were guided first to the smoking section and just as quickly headed right back to a prime view of the center courtyard in the non-smoking section. The bright, brick courtyard was full, but not crowded with hanging plants and a large tree that created a semblance of privacy amid the busy tables. Flanking either side of the courtyard, booths and tables were tucked into darkened and intimate corridors. The overall effect was dynamic and cozy. An intriguing addition was the large glass window running the length of the salad bar that allowed a view of activity in the kitchen, but eliminated the smoke, sizzle and noise.

For some reason, we were served our soup and salad before our appetizers, but we only noticed it was backward after we ate our starters. The Black Bean Soup ($3.75 for a cup or included with a dinner entrée) was served with slivered tortilla chips and a squiggle of sour cream. It was thick with a rich flavor and a good, but subtle, kick.

The Caesar Salad (included with entrée) was made of torn Romaine lettuce with a bland dressing but very good fresh Parmesan slices. The salad bar might have been a better choice.

Grilled mushrooms, red and green peppers and zucchini starred in the Char-Grilled Vegetarian Quesadilla ($6.95). Spread between crisp, tender tortillas, brushed with oil and grilled quickly with a mild cheese, this was a terrific rendition. A zesty chili-lime crème complimented the winning presentation. Spicy Steamed Prince Edward Island Mussels ($7.95) were succulent in a sweet pepper chili and citrus herb broth that left a pleasing aftertaste and a yearning for a few more of the shelled delicacies. The slightly warm bread (Italian ciabatta) had an excellent crust and chewy center, making it a necessary and very suitable accompaniment to the mussel broth.

Intriguing entrées included Chili-Lime Marinated Chicken Breast ($17.95) and Lobster Alfredo ($18.50, full, or $15.25, petite), as well as classic red meat offerings such as Filet Mignon ($24.75) and Roast Prime Rib of Beef Au Jus ($19.95 full cut; $17.75 petite). Our selections made, we enjoyed our wine from an interesting, but not over-zealous list. The Grilled Swordfish Escabeche ($23.95) was tender in the center, but slightly dry at the edges. Topped with salty lobster chunks in a relish, the effect was pleasing, but not quite perfect. The ratatouille was superb in a savory spicy tomato sauce with large pieces of zucchini, red, green and yellow peppers. The wild rice was relatively lackluster and could have been boosted by partnering with another rice grain. The Roasted Marinated Lamb Loin ($23.95) was elegant and unusual. Served with a Moroccan glaze, the lamb was very moist and full-flavored and served with an earthy, somewhat spicy shallot au jus. The accompanying celery root whipped potatoes were rich and buttery, just the type of side dish that begs for a carry-home package. And the green beans were fresh, beautiful, still crunchy and sweet.

We were easily tempted to try a couple of the desserts, assuring each other that we didn't have to eat all that we were served. However, when the Peanut Butter Pie ($4.50) and the Peach Crisp ($4.25) arrived, it was clear that the plates would be licked clean. The pie had a crisp graham cracker crust beneath rich and creamy peanut butter ambrosia, capped with a thin chocolate glaze. This was pure ecstasy for peanut butter fans of all ages. The Peach Crisp was warmed in a ramekin layered with rich, juicy fruit, an oatmeal and brown sugar coating and a modest scoop of golden vanilla ice cream. It seemed closer to a slump than a crisp, but that could just be my Southern heritage showing.

Some restaurants become classic because they don't tinker with the basic package or menu. It's a true pleasure when a good restaurant continues to reinvent itself, taking risks, but always relying on the best quality ingredients taken to a new level. ©

Chester's Road House

Go: 9678 Montgomery Road, Montgomery

Call: 513-793-8700

Hours: Lunch: Monday- Friday 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m.; Dinner: Monday- Thursday 5 - 10 p.m.; Friday 5-10:30 p.m.; Saturday 5-11p.m.; Sunday 5-9 p.m.

Prices: Moderate to expensive

Payment: Major credit cards

Vegetarian Friendliness: Several selections throughout the menu