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  • BJ's Restaurant and Brewhouse in front of Glenbrook Square on Coliseum Boulevard.

  • The Pizookie Trio at BJ's Restaurant and Brewhouse in front of Glenbrook Square on Coliseum Boulevard.

  • The Hickory Brisket and Bacon Burger at BJ's Restaurant and Brewhouse in front of Glenbrook Square on Coliseum Boulevard.

  • Prime Rib Dip sandwich at BJ's Restaurant and Brewhouse in front of Glenbrook Square on Coliseum Boulevard.

  • Seared Ahi Salad at BJ's Restaurant and Brewhouse in front of Glenbrook Square on Coliseum Boulevard.

  • Turmeric-roasted Cauliflower at BJ's Restaurant and Brewhouse in front of Glenbrook Square on Coliseum Boulevard.

  • Couscous Mac and Cheese at BJ's Restaurant and Brewhouse in front of Glenbrook Square on Coliseum Boulevard.

  • A Beignet at BJ's Restaurant and Brewhouse in front of Glenbrook Square on Coliseum Boulevard.

  • Piranha Pale Ale Chili at BJ's Restaurant and Brewhouse in front of Glenbrook Square on Coliseum Boulevard.

  • BJ's Restaurant and Brewhouse in front of Glenbrook Square on Coliseum Boulevard.

  • Crispy Flatbread Nachos at BJ's Restaurant and Brewhouse in front of Glenbrook Square on Coliseum Boulevard.

  • A thin tavern-style pizza at BJ's Restaurant and Brewhouse in front of Glenbrook Square on Coliseum Boulevard.

  • A deep-dsh Pepperoni Madness pizza at BJ's Restaurant and Brewhouse in front of Glenbrook Square on Coliseum Boulevard.

  • The Vegan Lentil and Ancient Grains soup at BJ's Restaurant and Brewhouse in front of Glenbrook Square on Coliseum Boulevard.

Sunday, June 18, 2017 1:00 am

Server's spot-on help pays off at new spot

RYAN DUVALL | The Journal Gazette

BJ's Restaurant & Brewhouse

***1/2

Out of a possible five

$$$

Never underestimate a good server.

I was reminded of this again recently when I visited BJ's Restaurant & Brewhouse, the new chain eatery in front of Glenbrook Square.

This big restaurant with its big menu doesn't offer any hints as to what it is known for just like so many continental chains these days. There are pizzas, pastas, ribs, steaks, burgers and fish, and the dishes draw influence from all over the globe.

So as I waited to be seated, I asked my hostess what was the best thing on the menu. And she gave me an answer that sounded like it came straight from the BJ's training video – “Everything is really good here.”

Thanks for nothing.

So when I asked my server the same thing, I thought I would get a similar answer. But he stepped it up.

For starters, he said he would go for thin-crust pizza over deep-dish, which is the restaurant's signature, because he thinks it is better. Then, after I asked how the burgers were, he persuaded me to stick to the loaded burgers, which are 7 ounces, and pass on the “BJ's Brewhouse Burgers” section because they feature 5-ounce patties that he felt were less impressive.

He was right on. My Hickory Brisket and Bacon Burger was fantastic. The big, juicy patty was the star and the brisket just sort of acted like a sauce and mixed in with the super crunchy bacon to create a perfect sweet and smoky flavor.

He was spot on when it came to the pizza, too. The thin and crispy tavern-cut pie was really nice. The edges of this oval-shaped pie were brown and crunched with each bite, but the rest of it was soft and chewy. It had the perfect texture combination, the sweet sauce was tasty and I loved that it was cut in squares.

When I did try that deep-dish – this one the Pepperoni Extreme – I was disappointed. My server was right. BJ's puts sauce on top of its thick crust before the cheese, unlike a good Chicago pizza that has cheese first with sauce on top. Though that thick crust was crisp on the bottom, putting the sauce on first made most of it soggy. I would never order it over the thin crust.

Another thin and crunchy offering was a winner. The Crispy Flatbread Nachos had a flour tortilla oval base – same size as the thin pizza – that was crispy and airy much like an edible taco salad bowl. It was topped with black beans, a cornucopia of cheeses, lettuce, pico de gallo, jalapenos, sour cream and avocado.

All of the appetizers I had at BJ's were decent with the only flaw being chicken wings that were a tad small. A couple of the items from the “Small Bites” menu section were also worth having again. The Creamy Couscous Mac and Cheese had tender little grain beads that were cooked perfectly and really emulated pasta. They were coated in a cheese sauce that was not overly creamy but was full of bacon and diced tomatoes.

The Turmeric Cauliflower was also well executed. The florets were roasted just right to still be toothsome and the Turmeric flavor was prominent. It tasted like something that you would find at a top-notch Indian buffet.

Both of the soups I tried were worthy meal starters. The Vegan Lentil With Ancient Grains was surprisingly rich and hearty, was nicely seasoned and it had a lot of flavor. The Piranha Pale Ale Chili had a strong beer essence and a tickling heat. It could have maybe been meatier, but I would have it again.

I will not be having another salad anytime soon. The Seared Ahi Salad sounded great and looked great when it arrived with the seared pieces of fish artfully surrounding the outside of the bowl filled with a mix of greens, including romaine, cabbage, red bell peppers, and tomatoes, avocado, pickled cucumber, cilantro, wasabi, wonton strips and green onions with rice wine vinaigrette.

The problem was the tuna. It was ice cold and tasted like tuna from a can in spite of having some sort of herb crust. It wasn't freshly seared, and I doubt it was even seared at the restaurant. It ruined the salad.

Aside from the pizza and burger tips, my service at BJ's was splendid. My children were given gratis fruit cups and garlic knots shortly after being seated, and he did not miss a beat the entire meal.

But I was missing him during my other visit as those fruit cups and knots never appeared nor did the Garlic-Parmesan Carrots I ordered from the small bites menu. Those carrots did, however, appear on my bill. My server also disappeared for long instances as my drink ran empty and failed to bring horseradish with my Prime Rib Dip sandwich.

Like I said, never underestimate a good server.

That sandwich was a winner, however, with or without horseradish. The meat was moist, fatty and delicious, and has me interested in trying the regular prime rib.

The ends of my meals proved to be bright spots, especially the first time when my server strongly suggested I not mess around and just get the Pizookie Trio.

This sampler featured three fresh-baked and still-gooey cookies – chocolate chunk, peanut butter and salted caramel were my choices – topped with ice cream. They were as great as they sound, but, again, my server worked his magic by getting me a scoop of the Ghirardelli double chocolate chip ice cream on my peanut butter Pizookie instead of the usual vanilla.

And during my second visit when I had not-so-good service, BJ's Baked Beignet helped ease my pain. It was sort of a big chewy doughnut with a crispy exterior that was dusted with cinnamon and sugar, topped with fresh strawberries, a strawberry puree, vanilla ice cream and whipped cream.

So I guess you should never underestimate a good dessert, too.

Restaurant: BJ's Restaurant & Brewhouse

Address: 245 Coliseum Blvd. W.

Phone: 999-5310

Hours: 11 a.m. to midnight Sunday through Thursday; 11 to 1 a.m. Friday and Saturday

Cuisine: American

Handicapped accessible: Yes

Alcohol: Full bar

Credit cards: Yes

Kid-friendly: Yes

Menu: Flatbread nachos ($9.95), small bites ($4.95), brisket and bacon burger ($12.95), tavern pizza ($16.50), deep-dish ($14.95), prime rib dip ($14.95), tuna salad ($15.25), Pizookie trio ($9.95), beignets ($6.75)

Rating breakdown: Food: ** (3-star maximum); atmosphere: * (1 maximum), service: 1/2 (1 maximum)

Ryan DuVall is a restaurant critic for The Journal Gazette. This review is based on two unannounced visits. The Journal Gazette pays for all meals. Email him at rduvall@jg.net; call at 461-8130. DuVall's past reviews can be found at www.journalgazette. net. You can follow him on Twitter @DiningOutDuVall.