EJ's has been in its current downtown location, on the corner of 6th and Center streets, for six years. But it feels rooted there, homey and comfortable, like it's been around for decades. There's a big bar with a healthy selection of beer on tap and always, a lunchtime crowd filling the tight tables. I've walked by and wondered about EJ's Eats and Drinks many times, so today a friend and I decided to stop. The menu is comprised of sandwiches, salads and burgers, but something about the friendliness of that bar seemed to suggest that we start with a deep fried appetizer. So we had the day's special, colby, cream cheese and poblano ragoons, served with a side of housemade ranch. Our ragoons arrived in about five minutes — a plate of six crispy orange fritters that looked like a crosses between potato logs and eggrolls. The wonton shell was perfectly fried — none of that grease-saturated business that turns us away from actual eggrolls — but our first bite leaked a creamy, rich concoction that was more akin to nacho topping than we anticipated. (The menu board hadn't mentioned the cream cheese bit, so we'd been thinking something more like poppers. And yeah, if that's what you're thinking, just don't.) The poblano is a mild, sweet chile, with no real kick to cut the heaviness. After an initial taste, we knew we couldn't handle this odd American take on Chinese-Mexican fusion, were it dripping with the thick, pungent, housemade ranch that came with. The ranch was pungent and well flavored, but the concoction was way too oozy and rich. We also knew that we would have enjoyed our ragoons much more with beer.
The lunch menu offers sandwiches, burgers, soups and salads. And the classic veggie sandwich, the only veggie sandwich, reads a bit like an afterthought, with a list of ingredients you might expect from a three-buck veggie sub at a popular chain restaurant. We ordered the jalapeno burger and, because I wasn't in the mood for soup and salad, the classic veggie sandwich. My friend expected to adore the burger. I didn't expect much at all from the classic veggie. We were both wrong.
The veggie sandwich was delicious, primarily because it tasted so fresh. There was lettuce, tomato, sprouts, mushrooms, salty black olives, chunky bell pepper, avocado and deli slices of provolone and mozzarella. I think it was the bun, a soft split-top hoagie, that truly made the sandwich, and the fact that the whole thing was well-doused with a tangy vinaigrette.
The burger was a little disappointing, though. It came on another standout, split-top bun, and the jalapenos and chipotle ensured loads of flavor, but the meat tasted rushed. The burger was dry, veering on the thoroughly-cooked side of medium, without any attention-grabbing seasoning. (It was also fairly grisly.)
Both plates were served with piles of EJ's famous homemade chips, which we loved — but we suggest working from the bottom up. We ordered the ranch chips and jalapeno chips, and quickly learned to avoid any chip with visible flavor powder. The chips themselves are fantastic — thin sliced, chewy in the middle, crispy on the edges. But the primary ingredient in all the flavors (which seem to be shaken on just before serving) must be salt. The top chips were so salty that we found them nearly inedible. But when we dug beneath the heap, we discovered the shiny, yummy specialty that will bring us back to EJ's.
EJ's hours are 10:30 a.m. - 9:00 p.m. Mon. -Thurs., extended till 10 p.m. on Friday's. It's closed Saturdays and Sundays. Sandwiches and burgers run about $8.