Brewhouse is incorrect for this food world
By Mike Sanford, GLOB Editor
My son Bob and I had a very good lunch in one of the biggest restaurants I have ever enjoyed lunch.
I did think of Bob Seger's great tune, Feel like a number, as my son Bob and I waited to be seated in a dining room that looked like it could also be an indoor athletic pavilion called BJ's Restaurant and Brewhouse in front of the Oaks Mall.
The BJ's website explains this massive lunch spot in one word: " Our vision is to be the very definition of "WOW" for the casual dining experience."Yeah, I think "WOW" is an accurate term. Humongus, airport like, and gargantuan would also fit this, "big box, move 'em in, move 'em out lunch like assembly line."
Right after we walked in we were steered to our table out on the West 40 acres of this food world Ponderdosa.
Looking around I couldn't see a kitchen area. How ever I did see a lot of people hurriedly about the business eating a fast lunch.
Looking due east I did see the bar. This impressive wooden upright looked like it could be a fun place to catch a sporting event. Heck you could invite all of you best friends and still have room for more. It looked to me like this bar could easily handle 25 to 30 happy drinkers. BJ's offers eight 'home brewed' regular beers on tap at, plus several seasonal or specialty beers.
There is a ton of information about BJ's beers below on the restaurant web link.
When Meaghan, our server, returned with menus she handed us 'book' that had a dozen of more pages. I was relieved I wasn't going to be tested on the contents of this Dead Sea Scroll like lunch document. With a quick count I did see that the menu had 13 different food categories.
My cross-eyed look of intimidation was noticed by Meaghan. In a lunch environment where time is money, Meaghen reduced out conversation to nothing but the details.
"Lunch," I asked lifting the first page of this plastic, bracketed, punched, with each page indexed by another page menu looking confused.
"Back page," Meaghan replied using twice as many words as I.
Voila! With a turn of pages my lunch options had been reduced to 13 Lunch Specials.
Lunch became a no brainer when I saw the #9 special was Fish and Shrimp Tacos. "Panko-crusted, lightly fried fish or chargrilled shrimp wrapped in our special tortilla with chipotle mayonnaise, Santa Fe dressing, Napa cabbage, carrots, red onions and cilantro. Served with tortilla chips, avocado cream sauce and fire-roasted tomato salsa."
I love tacos, I REALLY love Fish & Seafood tacos.
Bob is relatively new to the lunch hour professional eating wars. He was casually navigating BJ's version of a food Funk & Wagnall's when I cut his mission short with a, "What do you see pal?"
Bob selected the Jambalaya. BJ's jambalaya combines blackened chicken, shrimp and chicken-andouille sausage, sautéed with bell peppers, onions and tomatoes in a spicy sauce. Served over a rice pilaf and topped with green onions.
(BTW I used the BJ's online menu for some lunch menu specifics. The menu was so large it should have a "search" function to find things.)
Meaghan retuned in a surprisingly short time with our lunch.
Bob's 'jamby' looked yummy with a lot of ingredients. He said there was a good amount of spice in the entrée. We were both surprised that the ingredients were placed on top of a bed of rice, not mixed into the rice.
Bob was satisfied lunchouter, and said he would order it again.
My fish and shrimp tacos were delightfully enjoyable. The fish taco was a crispy, crunchy piece of white fish filet that added a good texture to the taco offsetting the toasty crunch of the tortilla. These were good tacos with many veggies and flavors. The tacos would have been better with some green pepper sauce to punch up the heat a little, but none was to be found.
This was a good lunch. BJ's isn't the place for a casual, intimate lunch stop where you plan to discuss things, get to know each other better.
This place is your big time, beat-the-clock lunch race opportunity.
Yeah, that's an idea. BJ should punch your ticket when you come in, and if you are done with lunch in 40 minutes you win . . . a free tour of the kitchen.
The Pluses and Minuses of BJ's Restaurant & Brewhouse:
BJ's Brewhouse + indicators: I can't imagine any one saying, "There's nothing to eat.".
BJ's Brewhouse - indicators: After lunch I felt like I just got off the subway in NYC.
I was near the Oaks Mall on a windy, 'rain-ier' than usual day at lunch hour, and meat loaf sounded like exactly what the epicurean gods wanted the GLOB Master to eat. I didn't need no stinkin' BJ's Brewhouse multi- page menu to search for meat loaf. And that was my first question to the BJ's bartender.
Her reply: "You know I don't think we do." The just out of bar-keep training, Morgan Moceyunas, said giving serious thought to my question, added: "You'd think we would have it wouldn't ya?"
"Then again, no has ever asked if we have meat loaf before." Morgan continued answering her own question and looking at me with a puzzled look.
I appreciated Morgan's honesty and opted for an open-face Brewhouse Black & Bleu-House Burger that included a 5 oz. beef patty with chipotle, bleu cheese crumbles, Applewood smoked bacon, tomatoes and roasted garlic aioli.
I added a side of fresh asparagus while I felt a tug of longing for a giant plate of thick cut home fries.
The tangy punch of the garlic aioli–mayonnaise surprised me and was special treat. "Morgan do you guys add garlic or something to the mayo," I asked, forgetting about the addition of aioli to my burger that was adding flavor to a normally mundane white condiment.
"I don't think so," she said wracking her brain for answers. "I never put mayo on my hamburger," she replied, stopping and thinking, about the life of a BJ's Brewhouse hamburger.
"Keep in mind I've only been behind this bar for ten days," she added. "Two weeks ago I was a hostess at the front door," she said trying to explain her conundrum.
I was enjoying our banter, plus the hamburger was good, and looked inviting with the bleu cheese and the bacon slices criss-crossing atop the all-beef patty.
The asparagus was really crisp, fresh and delicious. Who would think that the tinier is in fact the better. My baby asparagus was almost jumping off of the plate with flavor and texture delights.
A hamburger-no-bun lunch is an unremarkable lunch experience as a rule. Much applause to Morgan M and her willingness to please, keep the customer happy, and make lunch a special experience.
I'm going back and let Morgan suggest my lunch surprise next time.
- GLOB Master
Brewhouse puts BIG in 'big box chain'
By Melissa Kahan, GLOB Correspondent
One restaurant that I always assumed would make its way to Gainesville because of its size, popularity, and menu variety was the Cheesecake Factory: multiple pages of a diverse variety of meal and drink options, from pastas, salads and burgers to wine and beer lists and dessert selections leave you perusing the menu for a good chunk of time. The slightly dimly lit, large dining area is perfect for packing the hungry patrons in at any time of day. I realized that Gainesville does have a comparable rendition, though: BJ's Brewhouse offers all of those options and more, including an unlimited soup and salad lunch option and EnLIGHTened menu with items all under 795 calories for the health-conscious lunch outer.
Its proximity to my job makes BJ's an easy go-to option, especially considering it has something for everyone. Needless to say, I have dined in and even taken food out, too many times to count. So when GLOB Master Mike Sanford wanted to meeet for a work lunch on Thursday, that was an easy option that I knew would have something for whatever craving struck.
The lunch crowd was just what I expected around noon: A conveyor belt of working professionals, kid-toting families, and the occasional couple kept BJ's bustling. However, we were immediately seated at a small booth. You would think that, due to the high volume of patrons at any given time, the noise level would match, but luckily they have worked out the space and the acoustics so we were not shouting across the booth just to hear each other.
As mentioned, there is a whole section of lightened-up fare, as well as a lunch-specific menu. Mike and I stuck to those pages so as not to become sucked into the black whole vortex that is a 15-page menu. I really enjoy the Kale and Roasted Brussel Sprout Salad with choice of protein, which came to about $15 with my addition of blackened salmon.
Mike was feeling a little more adventurous and his first question to the server was, "Where can I find an open-faced burger?" There was one on the menu, so Mike opted for it, although really you can make any burger open-faced.
Not even 15 minutes later, my salad, minus the raw onions, and Mike's burger with a side of roasted Brussel sprouts for good health arrived. The salad was not a lunch portion size, and I was presented with a heaping bowl of greens topped with lots of sweet goodies, such as blueberries, grapes, dried cranberries and candied pecans, and I loved their contrast to the rich goat cheese. Some toasted pepitas and cucumbers added an additional salt element with the Brussel sprouts, but the strawberry vinaigrette kept the sweetness fully intact. Blackened salmon is one of my favorite protein options, so regardless of the salad or dish I do not hesitate to add it to my plate; in this case it was a relatively large portion. I tried to get through most of the salad--once the dressing permeates the layers of the salad, there is no saving that for later. It was way too much for one person to comfortably finish, but it was just as tasty as the last time I ordered it, and consistency is something I always look for in any restaurant.
The open-faced burger is not on the online site/ordering system, but for about $10 this visually-busy burger is quite a mouthful: A thick, in this case medium-rare, patty was topped with a generous smear of spicy salsa verde, crispy bacon slices, melted cheese, and a ready-to-pop sunny side up egg, which coated the burger in runny, delicious yolk. This would have been a fork and knife burger, with or without being presented as open-faced. It was cooked very well, and the multiple ingredients actually collided into an explosion of tasty, albeit strong, flavor sensations. Mike's once-full side bowl of Brussel sprouts spoke for itself.
At peak hours, namely lunch time from 11 am to 1 pm and dinner time from 6 pm to 8 pm, you may have to wait, but other than that there is usually a table available. The most attractive aspect of BJ's is the BJ's Rewards Program, by which you accumulate points as you dine and which leads to plenty of actually useful rewards, such as dollars off your purchase, BOGO lunch meals, half-off pizzas on select days, and so on.
In addition to the Kale and Brussel Sprout Salad, some of my other go-to menu items include: the Honey-Crisp Chicken Salad, which is essentially a cobb salad with fried chicken tenders and honey mustard dressing; the BJ' Favorite Deep Dish Pizza; and the Flatbreads. The pizookies are a dessert experience in and out itself, so it would absolutely behoove any first-timer to save some room for these warm, fresh skillet cookies topped with ice cream. There is a very large, BJ's menu available at the restaurant link at the bottom of this page.
Don't forget the BEER in the BJ's name. In addition to ten signature beers, including BJ's Brewhouse Blonde and Jeremiah Red, BJ's offers regular seasonal beers such as BJ's Pumpkin Ale and Annual Grand Cru, and experimental beers that we brew out of Boulder, CO. Each season of the year a seasonal beer is available for dinner. BJ's partners with other breweries and features their beers alongside BJ's beers for a multi-course, beer-paired meal.
The Pluses and Minuses of BJ's Restaurant & Brewhouse:
BJ's Brewhouse + indicators: Wide selection, open late 7 days a week, large portions, pretty consistent quality, good value for meal, brews some of its own beer, well-crafted cocktails
BJ's Brewhouse - indicators: Can get busy and service does noticeably slow down, big-box chain style, potential traffic being in Oaks Mall prking lot.
Franchise, big box lunch opportunities are not my favorite. I'm also not a big fan of lunch room, cafeteria like dining. If I walk into a crowed dining room and feel like a person in Bob Seeger's "Feel Like a Number" tune, typically for the GLOB Master, lunch becomes a get in, get out experience. I stopped in at BJ's Brewhouse in front of the Oaks Mall recently. The last time I saw that many people in one place it was a Florida Gator basketball game. I was by myself so I decided I was going to be a big boy about this lunch. As the hostess walked me down the aisle of 35 to 40 talking, laughing, customers enjoying themselves, she gave me the two-fer table at the end of the aisle in front of the servers' work area. That's OK--I had room to read my newspaper, and there was an interesting table of 10 customers speaking so loud across the aisle I could have joined their conversation. I asked my server what to eat, and she said I should try the hamburger: "BJ's has an awesome hamburger," she said looking down at me from above my tiny table. So I did. In fact I selected the BJ's Brewhouse Crispy Jalapeño Burger. It sounded good from the menu description with fried jalapeños, pepper jack cream cheese, chipotle mayonnaise, Baja sauce, red onions, tomato and lettuce. When it arrived at my table, this big boy hamburger looked even more impressive. This protein bomb requiring a two-fisted grip and dripping toppings on all sides was very good. BJs must be steaming their hamburger rolls because this was the softest, lightest hamburger wrap I have had in some time. Do you know about those tiny Crystal hamburger rolls? Think of something like that on steroids. The jalapeno peppers supplied just enough heat, and the flavor reminded me that this was in fact a spicy, hot burger. True to form, by the time of my last few bites, my hamburger had disintegrated into a plate of hamburger hash. What do I care? I was enjoying my hamburger, and only slightly concerned that the people at the table next to me might ask for a bite of my BJ's Restaurant and Brewhouse Crispy Jalapeño Burger.
- GLOB Master
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