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Tuesday, September 23, 2014, 1:33 a.m.
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Good things brewing at BJ’s

By Jennifer Christman

This article was published April 24, 2014 at 3:07 a.m.

the-crispy-jalapeno-burger-comes-with-crispy-thin-pictured-or-wedge-cut-seasoned-fries-at-bjs-restaurant-brewhouse-in-little-rock

The Crispy Jalapeno Burger comes with crispy thin (pictured) or wedge-cut seasoned fries at BJ’s Restaurant Brewhouse in Little Rock.

BJ’s Restaurant Brewhouse’s website states its vision: “To be the very definition of ‘WOW’ for the casual dining experience.

Two visits to the California-based chain’s new west Little Rock location in the Shackleford Crossings shopping center did wow us. Maybe not with an all caps “WOW,” but a definite uppercase “Wow.”

A large, loud space with plenty of sizable screens, BJ’s is a good place for a group and a game. While it’s a brewery, a rather lengthy kids menu (nearly a dozen $5.50 meal options), in addition to a varied American inventory of wings, snacks, pizza, light entrees, burgers, sandwiches, salads, ribs, steaks, pasta and specialty plates, makes it family friendly. So do the prices. The website highlights 30 lunch and dinner entrees less than $10.

Expect to wait during peak hours. The first visit, we waited the quoted 20 minutes, receiving a message (texts are the new pagers) when our table was ready in the comely dining room of dark woods, tall ceilings and framed liquor prints. The second visit, we opted to sit at a table in the first-come-first-serve expansive bar with no wait.

Speaking of waiting, we did endure an extraordinarily long wait for our food our first visit. Our appetizer, a BJ’s Fritos Chili Cheese Pie ($8.75), was nowhere to be seen some 15 minutes after our server took our order via high-tech tablet. As she went to check on our starter, it arrived - at the very same time as our meals (a burger and pizza). Poor pacing is probably our biggest restaurant pet peeve. Things were not off to a great start.

But good food has a way of smoothing things over, as does good beer, like a pint ($4.95) of the brewery’s Brewhouse Blonde, a light, summery German-style Kolsch. Another nice pale choice is the mild LightSwitch Lager. My designated driver selected a mug of sweet handcrafted cream soda ($2.95).

Those who prefer heartier drafts can research at bjsrestaurants.com/bj-beers for descriptions, pairings and IBU (bitterness) stats, or they can just go right for the Tatonka Stout (IBU: 50) or Hopstorm IPA (IBU: 65). Those who want to play it safe can stick with familiar domestic and import brands. BJ’s also has a lengthy wine and cocktails list that includes several sangrias and multiple margaritas, martinis and mojitos.

The appetizer menu includes artful Ahi Poke and Thai Shrimp Lettuce Wraps, but we went with the nostalgic Frito pie, a pile of corn chips smothered with Cheez Whiz and BJ’s Piranha Pale Ale Chili, topped with applewood smoked bacon, sour cream, diced tomatoes and green onion. We only wish we would have had a longer time to savor it.

The Crispy Jalapeno Burger ($9.25) was a hard to-handle, half-pound beast balancing fried jalapenos, pepper jack cheese, chipotle mayonnaise, Baja sauce, red onions, tomato, lettuce and chopped cilantro. While the burger was definitely done - BJ’s cooks its burgers to medium-well unless otherwise specified - it was not dry.

Deep-dish pizzas (choose from the signature menu or customize with $2.50 toppings that include everything from salami to sweet corn) are a BJ’s specialty. The BJ’s Favorite ($10.95 mini to $24.50 large), heartily topped with meatballs, pepperoni, Italian sausage, mushrooms, green peppers, black olives, white onions and fresh Roma tomatoes, while maybe not our favorite pizza ever, was certainly pleasing, although it could have enjoyed another minute or five in the oven.

Our second visit, choreographed by delightful server Erika, was flawless. Not sure what we wanted, we relied on her excellent recommendations. This time we elected a swankier starter, the Avocado Egg Rolls ($10.50). Crisp wontons stuffed with avocado, cream cheese, sun-dried tomatoes, red onions, cilantro, pine nuts and chipotle peppers, served with a tamarind sauce, they tasted like the beloved appetizer we always order at the Cheesecake Factory - a high compliment.

We both selected specialty entrees: Parmesan Crusted Chicken ($13.95) and New Orleans Jambalaya ($16.50).

Two full meals could be made of the two large cheesy chicken breasts that included a flavorful smear of lemon chardonnay butter sauce and sun-dried tomatoes. It was served with thick cheddar mashed potatoes and basic steamed broccoli.

BJ’s didn’t skimp on either spice or the protein with the zesty blackened chicken, shrimp and chicken-Andouille sausage jambalaya, packed with pepper, as well as bell peppers, onions and tomatoes. Served over rice, it made for multiple meals.

With much of our entrees in takeout boxes, we had room for BJ’s trademarked Pizookie (fresh-baked, deep dish pizza-cookie) dessert, three of them, actually. We selected the Pizookie Trio ($9.75) to try a taste of three mini Pizookies - Cookies ’n’ Cream, White Chocolate Macadamia Nut and Chocolate Chunk - each with its own scoop of ice cream.

We were in Pizookie paradise - Pizookie-dise - and didn’t want to leave.

For those in a hurry or who want to earn points, BJ’s Premier Rewards program lets customers handle their own checkout at the table via mobile pay and exchange points for free food at the rate of $1 per point. A free regular Pizookie (normally $6.95), for example, is 100 points.

BJ’s Restaurant Brewhouse

Address: Shackleford Crossings Shopping Center, 2624 S. Shackleford Road, Little Rock Hours: 11 a.m.-midnight Sunday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-1 a.m. Friday-Saturday Cuisine: American Credit cards: AE, D, MC, V Alcoholic beverages: Full bar Reservations: Parties of seven or more; call-ahead seating for smaller groups Wheelchair accessible: Yes Carryout: Yes (online ordering available) (501) 404-2000 bjsrestaurants.com

Weekend, Pages 31 on 04/24/2014

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