A Saturday afternoon spent shopping off the registry at Babies “R” Us can be mildly harrowing, so a stop at BJ’s Restaurant and Brewery seemed like the perfect way for my parents and me to cap off the afternoon. A stone’s throw from the baby emporium, BJ’s sits in the corner of the Esplanade, luring wary shoppers and professionals to enjoy a pint in the strangely welcoming industrial-proletariat-high-end sports bar with random chandeliers scattered throughout.
The menu stops just short of being indexed à la Cheesecake Factory, and includes over a hundred lunch, dinner and dessert items. On offer are a wide array of salads, burgers, sandwiches, deep-dish (“Chicago style”) pizzas, pastas and the upper-tier spread of ribs, steaks and salmon (also in the menu is a helpful chart to aid in matching entrees with the perfect beer). All beer is brewed on-site (BJ’s is a chain and luckily the Oxnard location is one of a handful with an in-house brewery). For the moderate among us, or those who abide by the no-alcohol-before-5 rule, there’s BJ’s own draft root beer. I never thought I’d say this about root beer, but it was brisk, satisfying and packed a punch.
A brewery review wouldn’t be complete without a sampling of the bitter, so I opted for the Piranha Pale Ale. A couple of passes around the table yielded descriptions of “grapefruity,” “citrus-y,” and “full-bodied.” Although I didn’t consult the match-up chart, the Piranha Pale complemented the Cajun chicken pasta I split with my mother (one dish would probably have been enough for the three of us).
The pasta didn’t pack the spicy Cajun punch that I expected, but instead was drenched in a tomato cream sauce with a nice kick of red onions, a dish which my mother helpfully suggested was “maybe more Creole than Cajun.”
My father ordered the meatloaf sandwich. Meatloaf has always struck me as being a dish of another era: wholesome, mysterious and better off in a Norman Rockwell illustration than in front of me, but this meal marked the first time in a decade that I opted to try it when my father offered the plate to me. Although I’m blissfully unaware of how meatloaf is made, after tasting this one, I imagined prime rib being ground up in the process. In addition, the open-faced sandwich was topped with white cheddar mashed potatoes and fried onion strings, and served on a toasted garlic cheese French roll. OK, Dad. I see the attraction.
Nobody had room for dessert but, if we had, I imagine we might have ordered one of the mining tins of ice cream-topped cookies (a “Pizookie,” if you will), with premium ice cream scooped over a freshly-baked chocolate chunk, white chocolate macadamia nut, peanut butter or oatmeal raisin walnut cookie, or over an Oreo blend (chocolate mousse optional).
The Pizookie is also available in party platter form which, coupled with the glossy drink menu, inspires tantalizing fantasies of a Friday happy hour at BJ’s …