If you’re looking for a port in these stormy, troubled times, comfort food is as good a place to start as any.
At BJ’s Restaurant & Brewhouse, new in Tacoma this fall, you’ll find comfort food with a creative twist. All-American burgers are big half-pounders served on a grilled bun. But you can also get them on a garlic cheese French roll or on Parmesan-dusted sourdough bread.
Deep-dish pizzas feature a blend of five cheeses, spare but tangy sauce and toppings ranging from cilantro to applewood smoked bacon. The basic chicken sandwich gets dressed for a party with chilies, avocado, garlic mayo and more. Meatloaf and pot roast star as entrees or sandwiches, and baked potatoes morph into main events as they’re topped with grilled or blackened chicken.
Wash it all down with one of the California-based chain’s signature beers and you ought to be feeling pretty comfortable, and plenty full.
The first BJ’s opened in 1978 in Santa Ana, Calif., as a pizzeria. The chain introduced handcrafted beer in 1996, and a concept was born.
BJ’s Restaurants are often located in major shopping areas, and BJ’s at the Tacoma Mall is no exception. The only other location in Washington is in Tukwila, near the Westfield Southcenter Mall. It opened just a few weeks before Tacoma’s BJ’s, which debuted Oct. 13.
The scene: The atmosphere is casual and modern, with subdued lighting and a high ceiling strung with black pipes and ducts that lend an industrial look.
You can’t escape six televisions, plus a TV wall. The night I visited, diners in every corner of the restaurant had a great view of the on-screen World Series battle between the Philadelphia Phillies and the Tampa Bay Rays.
The food: You could eat an appetizer daily for two weeks and still not sample everything on the starter menu, which ranges from simple chips and salsa to intriguing originals like avocado egg rolls. A largely standard soup and salad selection offers a few highlights, including Tuscan tomato bisque and a Santa Fe salad featuring fire-roasted peppers, corn, two kinds of cheese and several choices of additional protein (Cajun shrimp, blackened salmon or blackened chicken breast).
Dishes sampled: My party of three started off with an appetizer that could have qualified as a light meal: a 10-inch cilantro pesto pizza with an extra-thin and crispy crust ($8.95). It was topped with chopped fresh tomatoes and just the right, light amount of mozzarella and feta cheese.
A generous serving of bruschetta made with herbed focaccia bread ($6.95) was paired with a Caesar salad ($8.25) that was fresh and topped with more-than-adequate amounts of Parmesan and a nice garlic-tinged dressing.
The traditional calzone ($8.95) came stuffed with ricotta and mozzarella, swimming in delightfully sweet marinara sauce and topped with Parmesan.
The most interesting entree we sampled was the panko-crusted fried halibut tacos ($9.50), bathed in chipotle mayo and salsa, and supplemented with cabbage, carrots, onions and cilantro. It was nicely spiced, but not enough to draw sweat. (The tacos are also available with chargrilled shrimp.)
Amazingly, we made room for shared dessert in the form of a BJ’s specialty, the Pizookie. This is a giant pizza-sized cookie, served warm from the oven and topped with ice cream. We chose the BJ’s Famous Pizookie ($5.50), which consists of a chocolate chunk cookie topped with vanilla bean ice cream. There’s also a decadent triple chocolate version, if you dare ($5.95).
Brews: It wouldn’t be a brewhouse without beer, right? We sampled Jeremiah Red, a smooth and fruity Irish-style ale, and Nutty Brewnette, a satisfying and sweet brown ale.
BJ’s regularly features seven beer varieties and a specialty beer (pumpkin ale through November). Currently, all beer for the Tacoma restaurant is coming from a BJ’s in Reno, but when the brewhouse here gets up and running, it will craft some of the restaurant’s specialty beers as well.
If you don’t know your pale ale from your hefeweizen, BJ’s will gladly let you try a small sample for just a nickel. (Liquor laws prohibit free beer samples, according to BJ’s management.)
Service: Service was top-notch the night I visited BJ’s, with two members of the wait staff patiently answering all our questions and delivering flawless food in a timely fashion.
Two complaints about slow service surfaced on the TNT Diner blog, and BJ’s general manager Annette Dillard has already offered an online apology and invited aggrieved customers to contact her directly.
She points out that she sorted through more than 2,000 applicants to come up with her staff of 260 in Tacoma. But with the restaurant in operation just over a month, she says the new staff is trying hard to get the service bugs worked out.
“I feel we have a great staff,” she says. “I would stand by every single one of them.”
Debbie Cafazzo: 253-597-8635
BJ’s Restaurant & Brewhouse
Where: Tacoma Mall, 4502 S. Steele St., Tacoma
Hours: 11 a.m.-midnight Mondays-Fridays; 10 a.m.-midnight Saturdays and Sundays
Online: You can place a takeout order online at www.bjsrestaurants.com, and pick up your order either inside or curbside.
Price Range: $$
EDITOR’S NOTE: Drop-In Dining is a dining report about a new or new-to-us restaurant. Reporters drop in unannounced and sample the food, on TNT’s dime, then report what the scene and food was like. Have a suggestion for a Drop-In Dining feature? E-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org.