11 July 2008

Guest Post: Jason Burk reviews BJ's Brewhouse

We can handle weeks like this! Three days of content all provided by our awesome readers. For those of you who've contributed, thanks! For those of you who haven't, what are you waiting for? We'd love to hear from you.

Today's post is a review by HBG friend and homebrew aficionado Jason Burk.

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A recent evening golf outing for me and my wife to practice for an up-comping family scramble resulted in dinner and beers at BJ’s, the new brewpub at Greenwood Park Mall. Now, I grew up on the Southside, and the new part of the mall where BJ’s is located is pretty impressive compared to the 70’s variety of ugly department stores that still blesses ½ the parking lot. BJ’s is no different.

At first glance, you can tell it’s a corporate franchise. Stone and slate exterior cladding make this retail destination nicer than most. The interior décor, which is a cross between a fancy garage and elegant historic dining room, is pretty fresh if not a bit overwhelming to the eyes. If you judge a restaurant by the presentation of their product, you’d be hitting the mark here. Everything this places pushes is professional and sharp, down to the menu, which must have over 200 items. I didn’t count them all, but half way through we were looking for an out...

They’ve got your typical brew pub fare, much of it akin to Rock Bottom (country fried steak) or the Ram (fish tacos). But the special touches on the menu are inspiring: Giant stuffed potatoes, Chicago style deep dish pizza, a great assortment of pasta, and your choice between steak fries and thin-cut! As for the beer, in addition to the standards they regularly serve, they make a Berry Burst Cider and their own root beer, and they even serve commercial beers from other breweries (GASP!), such as 3 Floyds Gumball Head, Sierra Nevada, Warsteiner, Stone IPA, Framboise, and a few others. I think they even serve BMC. Gosh golly guys, how can you do all this for reasonable prices? Competitors watch out!

On to it: We ordered a seven-beer sampler served in 5 oz. glasses (35 oz. for only $6.95 on Fridays I think – not bad) to start, and an appetizer of pot stickers. Our entrees consisted of cajun shrimp pasta and the fish tacos. Good portion sizes accompanied with pleasant presentation left us feeling satisfied without even taking a bite, although that continued on throughout the entire meal. The dumplings were a bit thin and chewy, and the sauce was on the salty side – as though they used straight soy instead of a dumpling type sauce. However, that was the low spot of the meal.

The fettuccine shrimp pasta had pleasant, low but noticeable level of spice mixed thoroughly in a light creamy tomato sauce with plenty of shrimp – more than you usually get it seemed. The fish tacos were different than expected, only because it was find of a “fish stick” taco – they were breaded / fried fish sticks layered with a cabbage, lettuce and carrot slaw (much like the RAM there). The two tacos came with a spicy tomato and creamy avocado dipping sauce, both truly excellent. The slightly undersized mound of thin-cut fries were crispy and went rather well with the extra ranch dipping sauce my wife forced the waitress to bring. In the end, we both looked at each other and signed with great delight...despite the slight misconceptions, which is to be expected for a first timer, the food was just darn TASTY!

We started the beer flight with the Brewhouse Blonde. You get the picture with a Blonde – as the waitress said, most BMC drinkers choose it first. No wonder. The beer is yellow, fizzy, and slightly sweet, with a hint of fruit character. The menu says a Kolsch style, I relate it more to the pilsners I’ve tried to brew. I thought it was too “grainy” as opposed to being “malty,” although the darling wife (DW) thought it to be smooth. Worth a try, but no award winner here.

Next up was the Harvest Hefeweizen, brewed with authentic bavarian weizen yeast. A classic hefeweizen, I would say this is 60% clove and 40% banana. While I prefer the more banana-oriented hefes, this one is darn good.

Third was the Piranha American Pale Ale, make primarily with cascade and Chinook hops. The DW gave it an immediate frowny-face, but she’s no hop-head. They say this beer won a silver in ’02 and ’07 at the GABF (or something like that) and it tastes like it. Crisp, not too malty, well balanced and full of that hop blast that goes right along with an APA.

The Jeremiah Red, actually a Scottish Heavy, wasn’t particularly red. But as the label says, brewing this beer with the “5 specialty malts” gives it some complexity that finishes smooth and tasty. This is a malty beer without much in the realm of hops, but that’s the way it should be.

The Nutty Brunette is somewhat of a misnomer. Supposedly an American Brown Ale, it lacks the hop bite that comes with the “American” label, which leaves the beer a little unbalanced on the brown side. Lots of chocolate and dark malt flavor comes through though, which isn’t as much a bad thing as it was unexpectedly heavier on the malt. I didn’t get much “nutty” flavor out of this beer, but by this time we were well into the meal and perhaps my senses were degrading.

The last two beers, P.M. Porter and Tatonka (Imperial) Stout, didn’t even get a sniff from the DW. The porter is characterized as a Robust Porter, which in my book says a dark malt flavored beer with enough hops to balance and even add some bite. Alas, no hops were present, just warm toasty chocolate notes similar to the crazy bi....er, the Nutty Brunette above. Wait, that sounds like a heckuva beer name...

Tatonka lived up to its name. A low-end Imperial Stout (by specific gravity anyway), this beer had everything it needed to fit the Imperial category. Excellent roast flavor with additional specialty grains and dark fruit flavors that the beer geeks would talk about for hours (my senses stopped worrying about those back after the APA really). At 8.5%, this beer might kill you at happy hour. The chocolaty nose and pleasantly balanced hop bitterness really makes this a great stout. Only thing I might suggest is that they put this on nitrogen and see if it gets as creamy and good as Hoosier Ma at Rock Bottom.

We left with one sampler, one appetizer, two entrees and a generous tip for about $50.00, which in my book is well worth it. Give BJ’s a try and I think you’ll find a new destination on the Southside, whether you like beer or not.

Jason Burk
Homebrewer & Tuxedo Park Brewers “Co-Beer Aficionado”

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Thanks again to Jason. For more information about BJ's Brewhouse, click here to access their website.


  1. i went to bj's in cincinnati during the homebrew conference down there and was pleasantly surprised. i had the porter and thought it was pretty tasty. the darker beers have quite a range, so your robust porters and browns can either be malt or hop forward, but i tried neither, so i can;t say much about that. in cincy they had the porter on nitro which was a nice touch. i didn't try any other beers but they all were received favorably at the table of bjcp judges (and man, some of those guys are picky!).

    the food was pretty darn good. i sort of had a hangover which probably elevated the actual quality, but i had the buffalo chicken pizza and was happy eith it. at first i was a little worried, it actually had celery on it, but i'd definately order it again.

    i am pretty anti-chain, and after stepping into this place (it looks way too "slick" for me) i wanted to dislike it. but hey, you can't argue with quality. if i'm down in greenwood for any reason (which is pretty much never) i'll stop by.

    the brewpub name is a bit of misnomer though, because they don't brew on premises. it's shipped in from the beer mecca of reno, nevada.

  2. It is disappointing that they don't brew on premises, but at least they aren't trying to pass off a Bud as BJ's Lager and Killian's as BJ's Amber.

  3. I'll second the surprise at the place. It is "chain-slick" but it is executed very well. We've tried several things from the menu and none disappointed, but I tell everyone who goes there they have to try the pizza. It's a very good deep-pan pizza.

  4. You know, I meant to ask the waitress if they brewed on premise and it slipped my mind. They have some small tanks to make it look like they do, but I had a feeling they didn't because there wasn't much of a "brewhouse" anywhere in sight. Usually brewhouses like to show off where the beers come from!

  5. The american brown ale sounded like it was well within judging parameters. The Kolsch sounds like it might not have been. I will have to wander down there myself.
    I saw another place down at Country Line and Emerson Ave. calling it something-or-other brewhouse but no tanks or anything like that to be seen. At least BJ's has brewing occuring somewhere! Glad to hear Gumball Head is available there.

  6. Anonymous -

    The other place is Fireside Brewhouse. The food's OK, but the beer list is pretty good. Nice bar, non-smoking... it should do well because that area is starved for decent restaurants.

  7. I'm still skeptical about BJ's, but I'm always willing to give someplace a shot.

    Speaking of, I went to Fireside Brewhouse about a month ago and was extremely disappointed, at least on the beer side of things. It's a really nice place, but I found the Tap list was wretched and their bottled beer list severely lacking.

    Their food on the other hand was quite good.

  8. Scott -

    Is the beer list at Fireside the best I've seen? No. It's nothing like I've seen in good brewhouses in Portland, San Fran or Seattle, but it's a move in the right direction for a place in Greenwood. Talk to the manager... make a few suggestions... if people keep asking for things that are readily available they may listen and add them to the list.

    I'm more of a 'food guy' than a 'beer guy' and I had the opposite opinion of the food there. We've been there a few times and the only thing we've been happy with is a pork chop on our last trip (although they refuse to cook it anything other than well-done). My wife tried to order a steak medium-rare and the waiter said they couldn't cook it to that temperature. "Most places are starting to only cook medium-well or well-done" were this idiot's exact words.