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BJ’s Restaurant and Brewery

February 14, 2012

I was first introduced to BJ’s Restaurant and Brewery in the late 1990s when I was in college.  Not too far from the school’s dorms, in the main part of town within walking distance to us was a BJ’s Restaurant and Brewery which was incredibly popular.  The BJ’s sits near a busy intersection right next to a movie theater that regularly hosts Hollywood movie premieres so it gets a lot of foot traffic.  It used to be, that in order to get a table without waiting, you had to arrive at BJ’s during odd hours when they were least busy.  I loved their garlic bread with marinara dipping sauce, their deep dish pizzas and their pizookies.  Over the years, I’ve been to BJ’s numerous times; in that location and in many others.  I’ve always found it to be a great place to meet friends and family for good comfort food.

Unknown to me when I first discovered BJ’s in my college town, was that BJ’s was started in 1978 by two guys who had a great recipe for making deep dish pizza.  The two gentlemen opened the first BJ’s in Santa Ana and expanded from there up and down the California coast.  In 1996, a new BJ’s concept was created with the opening of the BJ’s Restaurant & Brewery in Brea, California.  In this new concept restaurant, BJ’s began to brew their own line of beers from ambers to ales as well as additions to their menu beyond the traditional deep dish pizza.  Over the years, BJ’s microbrewed handcrafted beers have won them critical acclaim and nationwide recognition.  Ironically, it is this Brea BJ’s that I find myself at most often.  In 2011, the BJ’s group further expanded their empire by adding a new concept restaurant called BJ’s Grill where new menu items, new service techniques and new technology would be tested in a real-world situation in their brand new Anaheim Hills location.

Through the years, I’ve gone to various BJ’s locations with friends and family, including my parents and my husband who all enjoy the jovial atmosphere you find at BJ’s as well as the great pizza.  In Southern California, this is probably as close to a traditional “pizza parlor” as you’ll find.  Since I don’t drink, the microbrewed beer at BJ’s doesn’t excite me, but there is something else on their menu that is handcrafted that is a favorite of mine and has also become a favorite of my husband’s – BJ’s handcrafted root beer.  Served in an ice-cold frosty 1/2 pint stein, the root beer is home-made and good with just the right amount of sweet and bitter.  It’s quite unlike any other root beer out there, and certainly much different from the root beer that comes in a can.  I’ve never had a root beer float at BJ’s because there’s always pizookie for dessert, but I imagine that a root beer float with this handcrafted root beer has to be pretty amazing.

I’m also a big fan of the various soups they offer at BJ’s.  They have a New England style clam chowder, a thick and cheese broccoli cheddar soup, a hearty minestrone, a new chicken tortilla, a pale ale chili made with their own piranha pale ale, and a traditional chicken noodle spoup.  But my favorite soup is the Tuscan tomato bisque made with vine ripened tomatoes which are pureed and mixed with cream and served with some home-made croutons.  The soup is the right amount of tangy acidic tomatoes balanced out by smooth, rich cream and topped with crunchy, buttery croutons.  You can’t go wrong when you start a meal off with the Tuscan tomato bisque.

You can’t go to BJ’s and not order a pizza.  Their deep dish pizzas are the star of the show.  Personally, I like both deep dish and thin crust; I can’t make up my mind as to which one is better!  With deep dish, I love the thick doughy crust.  I actually like my pizza to be a bit well done so that the crust is nice and crunchy on the outside and doughy and soft when you bite into it.  It’s the contrast in texture that I enjoy.  My favorite BJ’s deep dish is their barbeque chicken pizza.  The pizza is made with hickory-smoked bbq sauce, red onions, seasoned tomatoes, cilantro and bbq chicken breast.  I love that all of the tomato sauce-based pizzas at BJ’s use thick cut crushed or quartered tomatoes out of a can rather than just straight tomato sauce.  This way, the pizza has some texture and taste rather than just red sauce slathered all over it.  The bbq chicken breast is nice and sweet and tangy, not spicy at all.  And the red onion provides texture and crunch to the toppings.  And I love cilantro, so the more, the better.  I love that all of their pizza toppings are large and pronounced, you don’t have to guess at what’s on your pizza, you can see it.

One of the most unique things on BJ’s menu is their signature dessert, the pizookie.  The pizookie is basically a fresh-baked cookie of your choice baked in a deep dish pizza pan.  As soon as the cookies comes hot-out-of-the-oven, it is topped with a couple of scoops of ice cream and served to the table.  It’s the combination of white-hot cookie and ice-cold ice cream mixing together.  It’s a pizza-cookie or a cookie-pizza, it’s a pizookie.  The cookies come in all sorts of flavors from peanut butter to oatmeal raisin walnut to red velvet to cookies ‘n cream with Oreo cookies to triple chocolate made with Ghirardelli.  However, my personal favorite is the chocolate chunk pizookie.  How can you go wrong with chocolate chunk cookies and vanilla bean ice cream?  It’s a classic combination that takes you back to your childhood.

However, for my husband and my parents, their favorite is the white chocolate macadamia nut.  The cookie is filled with white chocolate chunks with macadamia nuts mixed into it as well and topped with vanilla bean ice cream.  If you love macadamia nuts, this pizookie is definitely for you.  The cruncy nut combined with the creamy white chocolate chunks is fantastic.

Good old-fashioned handcrafted root beer, deep dish pizza and pizookie is a combination that I have a hard time resisting.  Add to that some amazing and really delicious Tuscan tomato bisque and I can’t say no!

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