BJ’s Restaurant and Brewhouse
3748 Airport Blvd.
I’ve heard very little about BJ’s Restaurant and Brewhouse. I have friends who frequented the one in Chattanooga, Tennessee, but I’ve never had the pleasure. I did hear they originated in Southern California, a place with which I used to be familiar, so to the Googles I went.
Originating in 1978, according to the omniscient Wikipedia, the first one was called BJ’s Chicago Pizzeria in the beautiful town of Santa Ana in Orange County. It’s the town of John Wayne Airport (SNA), MacArthur Boulevard, Barranca and a couple of bars I knew for a while in the early 2000s. I think Irvine Spectrum Center was nearby. ProPik banjo picks are made there, as was my good friend, the late Frank Alvarez. I used to work in video back in Santa Ana.
While I don’t recall visiting a BJ’s while there, that doesn’t mean I didn’t. The restaurant chain has evolved over the years with locations that fall into two categories: One of those, BJ’s Restaurant and Brewery, is an actual brewery; the other is BJ’s Restaurant and Brewhouse. Mobile, of course, gets the latter. The ones with actual microbreweries supply beer to the other restaurants in the chain.
With a place like this, one needs to sample as much as possible to gain an opinion. I took six of us and we didn’t even put a dent in the menu. That sounds crazy, but it’s almost 30 pages long! I had trouble getting a feel for what they were going for, but apparently it’s everything. We tried to chisel away as some of the first customers of the day, me with two of my kids and Rob with two of his. Results were mixed.
We started our early lunch at BJ’s with a couple of iced teas ($2.95 each) and waters. We dove right into the appetizer section of the giant menu. After a bit of squabbling from the younger generation over what we should get, Rob and I had to ignore the kids and choose what we wanted, a great parental tactic. He ordered avocado egg rolls ($11.75).
They came out quickly enough, but when our server gave us our individual plates, they were sopping wet and greasy. Keep in mind we got there when the doors opened. Why would they be washing plates at 11:05 a.m.? Why are they wet and greasy, anyway? This bothered me more than my dining mates who were enjoying the halved egg rolls stuffed with cream cheese, avocado, sun dried tomatoes and chipotle peppers. I’ll say they were pretty good if you avoid the sweet tamarind dipping sauce.
I just knew the chicken pot stickers ($10.75) would be a hit. My boys love these at other restaurants, so why not here? They do have a pan-seared edge that I prefer over slimy steamed and plated versions, and the flavor was there. My only complaint was that they seemed undercooked. The edges were chewy.
Not to be outdone by Rob’s egg rolls, I also ordered fried cheese curds ($6.95). Now we’re talking! It’s like we were at a fair in Wisconsin with these little beauties. The fried curds were sprinkled with a little Parmesan and right at home on our already greasy plates. This is where they excel.
Ladies first, as Ursula, Rob’s daughter, ordered a hickory brisket and bacon burger ($13.95). Don’t worry. She’s an athlete and can handle it. This offering from their hand-crafted burger menu sports a fire-grilled patty, barbecue sauce, smoked brisket, bacon, Jack and cheddar cheese. I was offered a bite since Ursula loves mayonnaise (Team Mayonnaise!) as much as I do. Lots of flavor, but the patty was well-done. I mean charred. I guess that’s how they do it here.
Ulysses went a similar route with the bacon-guacamole deluxe burger ($13.50). It’s close to the same thing but with guacamole, tomatoes, jalapeños and the same bacon with Pepper Jack cheese. He told them to hold the chipotle mayonnaise.
Graham was predictably in heaven with his classic grilled cheese ($7.50). There isn’t much to report, other than he ate half of it and all of his fries. Fries were with all of the sandwiches and were really great.
There was no way I wasn’t trying the Nashville hot chicken sandwich ($11.95). Served on the same toasted, Parker House bun as the burgers, the mistake is the chicken is much too small for the bread. A dollop of creamy ranch may be to cut the heat, but there was never any heat to begin with. This town has had chain restaurant with “Nashville hot chicken” before, trying to take advantage of a fad. It’s never been Nashville hot. Not even Ellisville hot. Not even hot. I ate the rest of it without the bun and never reached for a drink. The pickles were good.
Rob had a tavern-cut garlic chicken pesto pizza ($16.50). Thin crust (which I like), garlic chicken with pesto base, roasted red peppers, artichoke hearts, five-cheese blend, tomatoes and goat cheese crumbles sounds great, but the lack of sauce left it dry as a cracker. He gave it a “D.”
Lucas had something called a meat-lover’s piadina ($9.95). It’s sort of a pizza sandwich, for lack of a better term. He devoured it.
Here is my take. It seems like someone looked at an order sheet and checked every frozen food option from a distributor and created a menu out of it. I’d guess there is more reheating than cooking. This is a place where servers (and maybe managers) come to learn what not to do, and although ours was attentive with the water pitcher, it took us 10 minutes (maybe) to get our check after she cleared our table. We sat there with pizza crumbs in the water with nothing to do.
A restaurant should be clean and dishes done by morning. With greasy plates and a greasy floor, somebody is locking up before their job is complete.
If you go for a beer with friends, steer clear of the real food and grab some breaded fries or an appetizer and you’ll be OK, but without major changes I don’t see this lasting much longer than Cheddar’s.
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