Branson, MO: Get Stuffed (Burgers) at Chester's

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[Photographs: Kat Robinson]

Chester's

2005 Missouri 76, Branson MO 65616 (map); 417-334-7838, eatatchesters.com
Cooking Method: Chargrilled
Short Order: Stuffy burgers are the star of a menu that includes 18 burger variations, salads, sandwiches and appetizers
Want Fries with That? They're all right, but you'll want the Fried Mushrooms instead
Price:Standard burger, $7.95; stuffy burger, +$3; fried mushrooms, $6.95; Reuben, $8.95

Branson is known for its big shows featuring country music stars, comedians, and such. It's also well known for having an outrageously large number of home cooking, family, and buffet restaurants. It's not known for burgers.

Fortunately for the burger connoisseur, there's Chester's. Opened in July 2008 as a restaurant featuring family favorites and such, it moved last year to a new spot along Music Highway 76 (aka The Strip) to a small strip mall across from Walmart. They shrank the menu a bit, paring away plate dinners and reducing the options to appetizers, salads, and sandwiches—including a number of burgers.

Chester's offers its burgers two ways: a traditional half-pound, char-grilled burger with toppings, or a Stuffy, where the ingredients are packed inside the burger before it's cooked. All of the burgers at Chester's are offered as Stuffies except the Chester's Pounder (two half-pound patties) and the Triple Play (three of the same). Three burgers are offered as Stuffies only: the Chrissy Stuffed with brown sugar baked beans and bacon; the Jeramy Stuffed with roasted green chilies, bacon, and Provolone; and the Perry Stuffed with jalapenos, bleu cheese, and hot sauce.

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My brother Zach's Country Burger was darkly charred, a nice full ovoid of beef under a sheet of Swiss cheese, grilled onions, mushrooms, and a massive chunk of tomato. His bun and mine were both nicely buttered and toasted, big thick buns golden on the outside and slightly yellow within. Both were served up with a big knife through the center on a bed of pretty standard fries.

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My Western Stuffy stuffed with an onion ring, cheddar, and barbecue sauce was a bit more round than Zach's burger, the vegetation of lettuce, tomato, and onion sitting like a bad wig under the hat of a bun. Without the knife through the center of the burger its lid would have likely slid off.

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I cut into the burger for an instant melty drizzle of cheddar and barbecue sauce that leaked everywhere. Because of the nature of the burger, it's cooked through to medium, no trace of pink remaining—not that the casual eater would be able to tell from the redness of the barbecue sauce. The breading of the onion ring that completed the trinity of stuffing ingredients had retained some of its integrity, and the onion itself was still whole but somewhat caramelized.

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The combination of filling ingredients was well chosen; I loved the balance between sauce, cheese, onion, and meat. The beef a traditional spicing of salt and pepper and a little hamburger seasoning. Getting it all into my mouth was difficult, though; I ended up resorting to fork and knife because the hot cheese was too much to handle dribbling down my chin and into my shirt. The crust of the burger was almost crunchy, just adding another texture to the cacophony in each bite.

For a side, try the fried mushrooms—they were unlike most fried mushrooms I've encountered. The irregular button mushrooms are beer-battered with a flour base and served with a housemade Ranch dressing. They were hot enough to injure, and it took a bit of restraint to keep from cauterizing my tongue with the tasty mushrooms. They had caramelized quite nicely under that batter.

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On the non-burger front, I can't go without mentioning my mom's Reuben. While my burger was delectable and Zack's was gone in under three minutes, Mom's Reuben was a masterpiece. Hunks of corned beef rather than the usual slices conveyed a luscious salty tenderness that required no chewing, just a moment to dissolve on the tongue before the swallow. The dressing barely kissed the meat, and the sauerkraut only balanced the tones of the rye bread without interfering with the meaty goodness. Chester's Reuben is one of the best Reubens I have ever tasted. Mom was kind enough to let us all sample the half she wasn't able to eat—it was nearly a full pound of meat.

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For my daughter, we ordered mac and cheese, which was delivered rapidly in a serving size big enough for any of us at the table. She dug the rich, fully creamy sauce and pasta with its sharp bite. Our waitress confirmed that the mac and cheese is made with a special cheese blend and baked on-site.

Branson needs Chester's more than it knows. I just hope visitors find it in its little hiding place and keep it going so I can try another Stuffy next time I visit.