9416 Transit Road, East Amherst, New York 14051
Web: Chester's Cajun Grill
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Cajun Clarence East Amherst Ribs Seafood
"There's something fun about dining at a place that is unapologetically skewed - a menu page is included 'for all you folks who aren't so adventurous but still love our cookin'.' "
There may be a better cajun style crawfish and rib shack in Western New York, but if so, we haven't found it, and after dining several times at Chester's Cajun Grill, we're no longer actively looking. Whereas the upscale Main Street Shango Bistro approaches New Orleans fare from the high end, Transit Road's Chester's unabashedly handles creole-style cooking from the low, with shockingly generous plates of shrimp- and lobster-like crawfish in the Etouffee, and your choice of Po Boy sandwiches, pork rib racks, steaks, and whatever other down home cooking you want. Chester's is one of those restaurants where you wouldn't need the french fries in order to leave your meal filled, but you'll struggle to stop eating because they just taste so good.
The Story: Our first visit to Chester's ended in disappointment - we came across the restaurant through an Internet search for something new, walked in the door, and saw everyone in the place turn around and look at us. It was Monday, someone said, and so the restaurant was closed as usual for a 4-H meeting. "Okay, that's a first," we thought, unsure of whether we'd return. But we did, and after trying some of the Crawfish Etouffee ($16) and the Chicken and Andouille Sausage Gumbo ($4.50), we knew we'd be back again. There were just too many interesting items on the menu.
Highs: Have we mentioned the Crawfish Etouffee? With a tomato sauce base that's loaded with garlic, peppers, and onions, this rice and crawfish-packed plate is a little spicy and infinitely more impressive than the similar Gumbo, which isn't bad, either. The major difference is the sheer quantity of crawfish parts, which taste and crunch like miniature lobster tails, stripped of their shells before being mixed in with the sauce and rice, and served with bread. Thanks to all the crawfish, this is quite literally the best implementation of this dish we've had - it's hard to order anything else here knowing how well this is done.
Another item, and one that surprised us even as seafood fans, was the blackened shrimp ($8 for 1/4 pound, $15 for 1/2 pound meal). There are some things that taste plenty good without heavy sauces and spices, and others that wouldn't taste good at all without them. Good shrimp typically don't need anything to be enjoyable, but Chester's blackened version is superb - spicy, cooked just long enough to avoid drying out, and demanding larger rather than smaller quantities.
The pork ribs are also generally very good, coated in a dark brown sauce that would make even lesser meat taste nice, and served alongside seasoned fries that could nearly be a meal in and of themselves.
Lows: The grilled chicken sandwich ($9), a kaiser roll with a chicken breast, lettuce, tomato and onions, didn't blow us away on one occasion. You can pick from several different sauces, but it's obvious that Chester's doesn't give its plain poultry the same sort of love that its seafood and more thoroughly cajun items receive.
On another note, the ambience isn't going to win any awards here, either. The Quick Draw lottery setup and somewhat off-putting floor seating don't exactly reek of class, as Chester's straddles the line between a bar and a restaurant, yet seems to be more in the bar category by design - a tavern elevating itself into a great restaurant.
The Verdict: We're willing to forgive Chester's little issues given the generally high quality of food and service we've encountered. On each of our visits, we've left feeling happy, filled, and a little better-informed about cajun fare, and we have yet to encounter any sort of issue with the wait staff, who are friendly and pretty well-informed about the menu items. There's something fun about dining at a place that is unapologetic about the skew of its menu - a page has been included "for all you folks who aren't so adventurous but still love our cookin'." Our advice: be adventurous. Try the spicy stuff, the specials, and the seafood. Skip the burgers and chicken breasts. You'll be glad you did.