Last week I got back from a long trip to Botswana and South Africa, and boy was I hungry for a burger. Molly sent me a text from Burger Jones that there was a near two-hour wait and that she and her pals had gone on to a Thai joint rather than endure the wait.
Oddly, Burger Jones was only seating half the room to keep the pressure off the kitchen and the night before had been handing out gift cards to encourage people to come back another time.
For a restaurant with this kind of pedigree (these are the same folks who opened Figlios, Mannny’s, Pittsburgh Blue, Salut, and Oceanaire after all) why couldn’t they figure out how to open a burger joint with a little less panic? Answer: Simple food is hard to do right. And despite the natural tendency to expect them to be open at a certain level of finish, I have to admit that at least they were being realistic and dealing with reality. They weren’t ready to their level of expectations, so they were limiting seating and handing out cards.
I had to see for myself.
Saturday morning, I got to Burger Jones at 11:55 a.m., hoping to avoid the noon rush. There were five empty tables. There was a waiting list. I was a party of two. I was fourth on the list. I was steamed. The room was flowing nicely. I wondered, "Why can't I be seated?" I guessed at some sort of quota system, although the two young ladies at the front desk seemed to have a bare minimum of experience from my several interactions with them. I was going to keep an eye out for myself, I decided. I asked them for an outside table, and they noted it with an “O” next to my name, the only such designation in the book.
My guest arrived, the buzzer in my hand buzzed (total of ten-minute waiting time), and the hostess came to seat us . . . inside . . . and there were three empty patio tables. I mentioned this and was sent back to the host stand, waited for five more minutes while there was a small huddle of decision-making, and finally I was in fact led to one of the outdoor tables. Phew!
From there, everything got a lot better. The menu at BJ is awesome, and I can’t wait for the kitchen to work out a few kinks because this place has p-o-t-e-n-t-i-a-l.
First off, the non-alcoholic beverages (raz-mint soda, lime rickey, homemade ginger beer, etc.) are all well made, they just need about 15 percent more flavoring goodies added, and they need to be shaken well before coming to the table; but they will figure that one out on their own. I hope.
Onion rings are superb—extra large, fat, and flavorful—but they are in desperate need of salt before and after frying. The simpler the food, the more the need for flawless seasoning. The fries need to not be stuffed into little metal cylinders; they look cute but become dull and flaccid as they cool. BJ’s malts use Liberty Custard products; I had a banana malt. As with the sodas, they need more banana and malt oomph, but once they discern that, the B of a malt I had will be a straight A+.
Burgers. Here’s where it gets interesting. HEY BURGER JONES, TURN YOUR GRIDDLE UP A NOTCH! There. Problem solved. The meat at Burger Jones is superb, rich and beefy with just the right mouth feel. The ingredients are high quality to say the least, the homemade sauces are all superb, but when you put a burger of that size, especially one that is hand-formed and that will make contact to the many ingredients BJ piles on within a few minutes, well, you better make a nice crust on each side of your burger, or it will purge all its juices on the bun, making it a paltry raft to hold onto—and it will fall apart as you eat it. More importantly, there needs to be the texture contrast between the crust of the burger and the juicy sweet interior. Many burger places around the country make this same mistake; I have learned my own lesson in my own cooking life. Turn up the heat on the griddle, kids; don’t flip too fast; make the crust and sear of the burger work for you; and life will be sweet. Speaking of sweet, the home-made bread and butter pickles with red onions and jalapeños are AWESOME. Don’t ever lose those.
P.S. Chicken-fried Bacon? I have had this item at the Texas State Fair; it rocks, and thanks to Burger Jones, it can be enjoyed here all year long.