- THE BEAR TRAP BURGER: With avocado, chiles, an onion ring and cheese on top, it's fit for a man cave of an eatery, the J.J.'s Grill.
The owners of J.J.'s Grill have got their formula down pat. Opening their first restaurant/bar in Rogers in December 2008, then expanding to Fayetteville in 2009, the J.J.'s folks now have eight locations around the state, the most southeasterly of those opening in August in the center at the southwest corner of Markham and Bowman in West Little Rock.
And the J.J.'s formula is tried-and-true: a nice selection of beers on tap and in bottles, a broad menu of fairly standard but well-prepared bar food classics, lots of TVs broadcasting sports with no volume, country music playing — but not blaring — over the sound system, and a staff of friendly waitresses. With eight locations opening in less than eight years, there's no need for J.J.'s to reinvent any wheels.
Our visit was prompted by several friends speaking fondly of the newest J.J.'s, which is in comfortable space formerly occupied by Another Round Pub and the final version of The Villa. At lunch last Friday the place had a definite "man cave" feel, all tables taken, primarily by hungry men, more in ball caps than not.
We started with homemade onion rings ($6.29) and loaded queso ($7.99), both well executed. The rings are medium width with tightly clinging batter. They could use more salt (so we applied some) but otherwise were perfect. They weren't overcooked, so there was plenty of life left in the onion, and when we finished them off we noticed there wasn't a single drop of grease on the paper in the plastic basket. We asked for some of J.J.'s french fry dipping sauce, a cross between remoulade and tartar sauce, and while it added some nice zing to the rings, we were surprised to see a 59-cent charge for it on our tab.
We could — and did — stand a spoon up in the very beefy queso. It is rib-sticking if just a bit bland. More spices would help, even if they just provided flavor and not heat.
We also were struck by the noticeable nongreasiness of the homemade chips, as good as any we've had, and the sweet potato fries. Neither left a remnant of oil. The chips accompanied a large but also sort of boring Philly cheesesteak ($9.99). The meat was finely shredded and tender, but it could have used more cheese and a larger quotient of grilled onions and peppers. Our friend jazzed it up with some Dijon mustard and a dill pickle spear.
J.J.'s has a huge menu, including 15 sandwiches, eight wrap options and no less than 20 takes on burgers. We opted for the Bear Trap Burger ($9.99), which includes green chiles, avocado, cheddar and an onion ring, with both buffalo and jalapeno-lime sauces applied. The 1/3-pound burger patty was cooked medium-well, as advertised, but it was still moist and juicy. The unique combination of toppings worked well together, but we would have preferred a buttered-and-griddled bun vs. the plain one we were served.
We likely could have repeated the spoon-standing trick in our bowl of chicken tortilla soup ($5.29). It was that thick — hearty but also creamy and full of chunks of white-meat chicken. It was topped by a huge mound of very thinly sliced, crisp tortillas pieces and was rib-sticking enough for us to call it our main course.
We were happy to see that J.J.'s features two homemade desserts — cheesecake and apple pie, each $6.29. We could have chosen a chocolate or strawberry topping for our cheesecake but opted to take it plain. It was a huge slab with a thick graham cracker crust. It was light but not particularly creamy, rich or flavorful. It looked great, but it just wasn't.
It's NCAA basketball tournament time, and J.J.'s Grill is one of the better spots in town for sports TV binging. And with so many choices, it will be hard not to find something to eat and drink that will appeal to you.
12111 W. Markham St.
Quick Bite: J.J.'s Grill has some of the most compelling happy hour deals around. Every day from 3-6 p.m. pints are either $2 or $3, well drinks are $2, house wines are $2.50 and a relatively massive plate of five chicken strips and five chicken wings is only $5. And then there are the three "happy minutes" periods — 3-3:20, 4:20-4:40, 5:40-6 p.m. — when domestic drafts are $1.
Hours: 11 a.m.-midnight Monday through Saturday.