There are very few chain restaurants Alex and I would endorse, but BJ's Restaurant & Brewhouse, besides having a fun name, filled our bellies with delicious food and great beer at equally delicious prices. Who wouldn't be happy with that? BJ's recently opened here in Gainesville by the Oaks Mall, in the former location of Don Pablo's. Think Hops, but with a wider selection of food. This is fitting, considering that our Hops recently closed.
About what you'd expect at a chain restaurant/pub. There's plenty of booth and high-top seating, along with a bar if you don't want to deal with the wait. They are apparently good at accommodating large parties, and will often hold birthdays and other large events. Their interior decorators are skilled, sticking to a stone and black decor both on the walls and floor, with a black exposed-duct ceiling. The indoor space is pretty large and they have a small outdoor patio as well.
Alex and I sat at the bar and our waitress was great. She knew what she was doing and checked on us often enough without getting in the way of our conversations. She never got an order wrong and made us feel welcome to take all the time we needed to have a great experience. Other servers I saw walking around, however, were having a tough time of it. BJ's had just opened a week or two ago, so they were all still learning. It was also a really busy lunch time, so they were stepping on each other's toes while trying to be helpful. This includes my toes, which were painfully stomped by a rushing waiter. He apologized, but I was too worried that he had torn my Reef sandals. After a few more close calls, Alex and I moved to a spot against the wall while we waited for some seats at the bar to open up. The bar seemed to be the information hub, because there was almost a constant stream of waiters/waitresses asking where they were supposed to take their food, and we were brought random items that didn't belong to us twice. No worries, though, our waitress promptly corrected them and sent them off in the right direction.
As any chain restaurant should, BJ's has a large selection of various types of food. They have salads, soups, deep-dish pizzas, appetizers, desserts, sandwiches, pastas, and plenty of hot dishes to fit everyone's tastes. They also have lunch specials Monday through Friday that include an unlimited soup and salad special. They also have a great selection of beer. Really, we were impressed (and we've been to Stubbies). BJ's has their own microbrewery as well as other decent beers on tap (including Orange Blossom Pilsner, Arrogant Bastard, Hennepin, Purple Haze) and available by the bottle (including Chimay, Westmalle, Delirium Tremens).
We started with the avocado egg rolls, with cream cheese, sun-dried tomatoes, cilantro, red onions, pine nuts, and chipotle peppers. They took ingredients that I wouldn't have thought to toss with avocado, wrapped it in a wonton wrapper, and fried it to crispy heaven. And this was the best part, it came with a sweet tamarind sauce. Tamarind is popular in Latin cuisine, and has a very tangy flavor. The sauce was a great compliment, although the rolls on their own were just as good. Warning, tamarind has a STRONG flavor. Just dip a tiny bit. I loved that the ingredients were mixed together before they were spooned into the wonton so it all blended into a perfectly spiced filling. The food was prepared well and decently flavorful. Alex had the mini deep-dish Mediterranean pizza. It had toppings of basil pesto, grilled chicken, roasted garlic, Kalamata olives, sun-dried tomatoes, feta, and sliced pepperoncinis. I had the shrimp tacos, which came with a delicious avocado cream sauce and fire-roasted salsa.
The beers were impressive. We had the seven-5 oz. samplers. This let us try all of their microbrews. The stand-outs: a citrusy sweet hefeweizen, a hoppy pale-ale, a fruity Irish-style red ale, and a flavorful porter with a creamy head.
Alex and I got out of there with 2 beers, an appetizer, the seven beer sampler and two entrees for $40 before tip. That's pretty good. The dishes are about $8-13. A majority of the beers were priced, surprisingly, under $5. Even the higher-end bottles were on the frugal end of things.
7/10. If we're ever feeling some good beers and a larger variety of foods, we'll probably stop by BJ's. Their site: www.bjsbrewhouse.com.