Of course we love our mom & pops, and our favorite burger joints around the country are pretty much all independently owned, but there are certain times in life—overnight layovers, hungover Sunday mornings, all-day shopping trips at the outlets—that the only options around are the chains. This column is here to help you decide when to go for the burger, and when you're better off sticking with the chicken fingers.
BJ's Restaurant and Brewhouse
107 South 1st St., Burbank, CA 91502 (map); 818-557-0881; 137 other locations in the US; visit bjsbrewhouse.com for list
The Schtick: A casual brewhosue that makes all manner of bar food
The Burger: The BJ's burger is a solid, large scale pub burger at a fair price.
Setting: Midscale comfortable
Want Fries with That? Sure; solid, if not standout spuds
Prices: Classic Burger (w/fries), $9.95
These Chain Reaction reviews can be a bit of drudgery at times. Generally speaking, I'm not much for restaurant chains and their brutally consistent mediocrity. Dare greatness with an inspired chef's creation? Pshaw, market test every dish so that dinner becomes as exciting as a committee decision. Of course, the other side of this is, well, that consistency and ability to please a broad range of tastes. I see the appeal. I've been know to construct a dinner party menu with similar goals. Then there's the aspect of how they interest my fellow Serious Eaters.
So when I stopped by BJ's Restaurant and Brewhouse for lunch in sunny Burbank, I hoped I might have a burger experience that wasn't just worth sharing but has already been shared by many of you. I'm happy to report BJ's makes a creditable cheeseburger that shows why this mid-scale chain has bloomed to 136 or so outlets around the United States. If you're looking for a reliable, if run-of-the-mill, burger, you might want to try it.
BJ's is designed to be the kind of restaurant you can grab a quick, relatively affordable lunch and then come back later in the day to drink away the evening. It's a friendly enough environment that's a solid choice for watching a game while grabbing some eats and a few beers. The menu offers a wide range of choices, but there was little chance I'd be ordering anything other than the classic burger ($9.95).
It's a sizable eight ounces of Angus chuck with a medium coarse grind that's—much to my delight—formed into a thinner round. (A quick note on this: forming large portions of beef into thinner patties than what we normally see would, in my view, improve most burgers. Ok, I got that off my chest.) In addition to the nicely formed patty the burger is topped with lettuce, tomato, and some Thousand Island.
The bun is worth a closer look. It's got the sponginess of a commercial bun, but it's more substantial than you'd expect, which matches the scale of the patty nicely. More than that, the slight toasting adds a pleasing chewiness that makes me wonder why more restaurants of this type aren't using a similar bun for their burgers.
The beef, however, isn't quite as pleasing. I wouldn't go so far as to say this is a weak patty—rather, it's without distinction. It doesn't have any notable seasoning, juice, or mineral beefiness. In its favor, it has a nice medium coarse grind and slim shape, but it doesn't jump out as the centerpiece of the burger that you'd hope it'd be for its half-pound size.
The toppings are fine. The veggies are fresh, but they're not full of the freshness that would warrant additional remarks. BJ's further confirmed that Thousand Island is a good choice for a classic burger. Cheddar helped add some tang and fattiness. I'd have preferred America for a burger with this profile, but strangely BJ's doesn't offer it.
The fries are solid though not standouts. They're slim cut and have a nice crunch from a serious blistering, but because they're so skinny there isn't that smooth, creamy potato center to offset the crunch.
BJ's offers a solid, if not particularly exciting version of a brewhouse or pub burger. Theirs is a restaurant of straightforward aspirations: consistency, comfort, and affordability. They deliver on these with their burger and perhaps, at times, that's more than enough.