A few weeks ago while I was leading a microbrewery tour with Tonic Tours, I started talking with a guy named Dave Reed who was enjoying a pint at Rivertown’s taproom. Turns out he is the beer manager at BJ’s Restaurant and Brewhouse and he invited Charlie and I down to enjoy some beer, check out their food, and see what we thought of the place.
Because I live near Tri-County Mall I have driven by BJ’s a number of times since they opened but something about the name and the location in the mall had caused me to write them off as a cheesy sports bar with too much testosterone and too many chicken wings so I’d never actually been inside. In the end, I may not have taken Dave up on his offer except that my cousin who usually has pretty good taste in beer recently told me that BJ’s has one of the best pumpkin ale’s he’d ever had. I was intrigued to see if I had judged BJ’s too harshly.
BJ’s started as a deep-dish pizza restaurant in 1978 in Southern California. The chain took off in California and in 1996 they added a brewery to their line up and began brewing their own beer to serve in their restaurants. All of the beer served at the Cincinnati location is brewed in the Reno brewery. In addition to the Tri-County location they have recently opened a location in Florence, KY and a BJ’s will be opening in Dayton later this month.
BJ’s has 12 of their own beers on tap, with selections ranging from their standard American-style light beer to a stout and a double IPA coming out later this month. When we sat down with Dave at BJ’s he brought us a flight of their four most popular beers: the LightSwitch Lager, BrewHouse Blonde, Piranha Pale Ale, and Jeremiah Red. All of the beers were solid, approachable, and fairly safe which makes sense given that these are the best selling beers in a fairly mainstream restaurant. There was actually a barely detectable hint of hops in their light beer and I particularly enjoyed the Jeremiah Red. It has a fairly complex malt profile although it may be a bit sweet for most people’s taste in an Irish Red Ale. I wish that we had gotten a chance to try some of the darker varieties of beer as well to see how they compared, but overall I would rate the beer good but not great. In addition to their own beer’s BJ’s also has 12 more beers on tap with everything from Blue Moon to Rivertown’s Hopbomber.
I have to say that the food impressed me a little more than the beer. The deep dish pizza was delicious, a nice amount of toppings that didn’t get overwhelmed by the crust. The seared ahi tuna salad I ordered was amazing, with the tuna cooked to perfection and nicely balanced by the rice-wine vinaigrette and generous portion of avocado. I was actually most impressed by the wide selection items on their menu that fit different diets. They had a surprisingly large number of gluten-free dishes that they apparently even use separate utensils and trays for to avoid cross-contamination. Their low calorie dishes, including the salad I got, were great even if they insist on calling them “Enlightened Entrees.”
Over all the biggest disappointment was that this pumpkin ale I’d heard about from my cousin was not available yet. I guess I will just have to head back in October when the finally tap it and try a few more of their beers before I make a final decision. Over all I would to head to BJ’s for the food first and enjoy the beer as an accompaniment to the meal rather than the main attraction. With easy parking, little to no wait, and plenty of big screen TV’s there are worse choices for a night out with solid food and beer you can’t try anywhere else. If you want to check out BJ’s Restaurant and Brewhouse a good opportunity is coming up at the end of the month. They are doing a beer and cider dinner September 30th; for $30 per person you get five courses of food with a beer or cider paired with each one. Call the restaurant to reserve a seat at (513) 671-1805. And be sure to check out Episode 30 of Bottoms Up to hear Charlie and I try the beer and get a rundown of each one.