As part of our Connecticut BBQ crawl on Sunday, Gary Goldblatt of Pigtrip.net, Mike Boisvert of Lakeside Smokers and I visited Chester's BBQ in New London. The restaurant is located on Bank Street in New London, several blocks away from the Bank Street bar district, in a commercial/industrial area near the shoreline.
The place is tiny, a true BBQ "joint." There are only three tables in the small customer area. Fortunately, only one of the tables was occupied, and we were able to get the biggest of the three tables.
We went to Chester's after having visited Big Bubba's BBQ at the Mohegan Sun Casino. We ate pretty heavily at Bubbas, but we did save some room for a wide sampling at Chester's. The person at the counter wasn't the owner Chester, but was one of his employees named Shawn. He was very cooperative and when we explained that our goal was to sample a wide range of items, he provided us with three individual cups of each dish.
We started with the brisket chili. This was my favorite item of the Chester's meal. It was very flavorful, not overly spicy, and was loaded with large chunks of brisket. The chili was loaded with beans. I prefer my chili meat only, but the beans were very good. The chili is a winner.
The second item in our initial wave of food was a hot link, which I thought tasted like a very spicy hot dog. I don't eat hot dogs so this isn't something for me, so I'm probably not the person to pass judgment on this item.
The first wave also came with the brisket. Chester's brisket served by itself was very moist and tender, but it really lacked flavor. I didn't taste a whole lot of seasoning in the bark, and it didn't have much smoke flavor.
The brisket sandwich, however, I liked a lot better. It came with the second wave of food, along with the spare ribs and cornbread. The little bit of sauce on the sandwich added to the meat, along with the serving on untoasted, thick cut white bread, really made this dish. I recommend this to anyone who visits Chester's.
The spare ribs puzzled me a little bit. They have two smokers at Chesters, both are Cookshacks and both are electric. While it's clear the ribs were cooked in the smoker, there was very little smoke flavor and no smoke ring at all. They were pretty good though, and like the brisket did not have a whole lot of flavor on their own. I did not try them with any sauce. I bet a little splash of sauce would bring these from my personal rating of fair/good to a good/excellent. I will visit again, and I will try the ribs with some sauce.
I only took one bite of the cornbread. Seemed moist, good flavor.
They have a bunch of other smoked meats on the menu that we didn't try this time, including baby back ribs, chicken, pulled pork, wings and turkey. We didn't have any of the sides except the cornbread.
Overall, I enjoyed our visit to Chester's. The food on the whole is good, and the prices are among the best values I have seen in a Q restaurant.
My main thought is that the BBQ probably would be top notch if it was cooked over charcoal and/or wood. To me, it has to be the electric smokers that take away some of the real BBQ flavor I crave and try so hard to create myself. I do understand that it is not easy to cook with wood and charcoal in a storefront restaurant, and there may be zoning restrictions that make it impossible. But to me that is what will keep Chester's from being great instead of good.