BJ's: Altogether pleasurable 

click to enlarge BJ's black and bleu burger.
  • BJ's black and bleu burger.

BJ's is the kind of place to visit if you're with a handful of friends, who like yourself have no idea what they want to eat, apart from the fact that it must involve quantities of beer of a certain quality. It was under precisely these circumstances that my wife and I found ourselves here with four friends on one of the busiest nights of the year, the evening before the Indy 500.

Although BJ's doesn't take reservations, they do allow you to call ahead to hold a table if there happens to be one available. I'm glad we took advantage of this service, as ours was the last available table in the place, and this was at 8:30.

On such a busy night, with a fairly large and indecisive party, I was slightly nervous that our experience would be a bit of a mess, and that we would leave disappointed.

Happily, however, my fears were unfounded, as both our excellent server, who would do many a loftier steakhouse proud, and the kitchen staff, were firing on all cylinders. Beer was delivered promptly and frequently, our server's recommendations were all sound, and the entire meal was seamless. Frankly, I was astonished, but in a good way for once.

Although establishments like this seldom get much of a mention from beer geeks and aficionados, it's a shame, because I think BJ's beers are actually quite sound. Like many corporate breweries, they do tend to homogenize their styles a bit to suit a broad market, but after a few pints I found myself quite impressed with the consistency and quality of their product.

Offering something like a dozen brews, in a range of styles from hefeweizen to imperial stout, as well as seasonal offerings, the California-based brewery ships refrigerated and unpasteurized: everything we tasted was in the peak of condition, fresh and fairly authentic. This was particularly impressive considering that three of our party were fellow Brits, a notoriously picky bunch when it comes to beer.

As for the food: no complaints on that front. The menu is huge, offering pizzas, salads, pasta, sandwiches, classic Americana and even some gluten-free selections. In spite of the sheer number of menu items, everything seemed fresh and well-prepared from high quality ingredients.

An appetizer plate ($16.95) featuring egg and spring rolls, as well as an excellent (albeit cliched) spinach and artichoke dip, really hit the spot. Entrees included an almost perfect seared ahi salad ($13.95), prepared with super fresh field greens and a tangy rice wine vinaigrette, a black and blue burger for $10.25 which was as good as almost any burger in town, and a massive plate of New Orleans Jambalaya for $14.95. This latter was ordered by one of the British visitors, who had never eaten anything remotely Cajun before; he became an instant convert.

Having only succeeded in tasting some eight out of a possible hundred or so dishes, I'm obviously in no position to comment upon the rest of the menu, but if what we ate and enjoyed on this one visit was anything to go by, you'll be hard pressed to go wrong should you decide give it a whirl.

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