By Dr. Ink
About a decade after Karl Strauss Brewing Company kicked off the local craft-beer scene on Columbia Street in 1989, a company to the north of us known for deep-dish pizza got in on the action to the benefit of San Diego beer drinkers preferring style over swill.
It was in the late-1990s that small-batch ales began appearing at BJ’s restaurants from its newly installed brewery in Brea, California. As production grew, so did the brand, which is now established in more than 20 states under the name BJ’s Restaurant & Brewhouse.
There are five locations in San Diego County, including one in Mission Valley that stands boldly and modernly at the entrance to the Hazard Center.
Patrons visiting for happy hour are steered to the raised bar lounge on the right, where booths, high tops and numerous bar stools afford ample seating under cathedral-high ceilings and a four-panel flat screen framed in orange lighting. For a chain of this magnitude, I find both the interior and exterior quite attractive.
The area leads to an outdoor patio as well, although I grabbed a booth inside and was greeted quickly by a waitress who rattled off the happy-hour deals too fast for comprehension. It wasn’t until I found them listed inside a metal-ringed binder of food and drink menus that I learned all beer, wine and cocktails are $1 off; shareable appetizers are $2 off; and mini deep-dish pizzas are half-price.
From more than a dozen brand varieties of suds, the Harvest Hefeweizen caught my eye, particularly the footnote stating “try it without a lemon.” Priced regularly at $6.25 for a non-cheater pint, I did as suggested for the first several sips.
I normally love the puckering tartness of citrus in this Bavarian-style beer because it eases the sometimes-heavy wheat flavor I’ve encountered from local producers. German brewers don’t push the fruit like their American counterparts mainly because they’ve long nailed down the balance of yeast, malt and wheat.
That goal is achieved in the Harvest, with enough natural fruitiness to forfeit the lemon entirely. With it, I actually found it less refreshing and more generic-tasting. Even my fast-talking waitress concurred, saying that she never adds lemon to the BJ’s version.
Now, with a half-glass of regret under my chin, I paired the lemon-spiked Hefeweizen to an order of marvelously tender ribs glazed in root beer. Compared to other noshes I’ve consumed at BJ’s in the past — fried calamari, beef sliders, and chicken lettuce wraps — these five meaty bones rocked my taste buds and rank as my favorite. During happy hour, they’re priced at $7.95.
Other beers from the BJ’s line include HopStorm IPA, Nutty Brewnette, PM Porter, and Berry Burst Cider. There’s a separate list of “guest beers” from other brewers as well. In addition, the wine list is surprisingly diversified, and numerous cocktails are in the offing, all available at nominal discounts during weekday and late-night happy hour.