Years ago, I was obsessed with a real-time PC strategy game called Starcraft, in which you guided the actions of militaristic space colonists attempting to gain control of the planets of some far-flung galaxy. The game’s point of view was divided among three races, one of which, the Terrans, hailed from Earth. The Terrans were most notable to me for their units’ sci-fi-quoting dialogue –– a bipedal tank sounded like ED-209 from Robocop, a transport jet like the dropship pilot from Aliens –– and the fact that most of their buildings were designed to lift off and fly over to another part of the map. In essence, you’d build a few mobile troop barracks in a safe zone, then fly them near a combat hotspot, where they’d land and disgorge bulky-suited space marines at regular intervals until you had enough to storm your opponent. It’s been years since I’ve played Starcraft, but every time I drive past Hulen Mall, the three casual-dining emporiums built in front of its eastern gate remind me of that game, because they look like they were constructed elsewhere, flown across town, and then carefully positioned in front of the mall to disgorge bulky-framed terrestrial diners.
Now I’m sure that the three restaurants –– BJ’s Restaurant & Brewhouse, El Abuelo, and Red Robin –– were plunked there (because I can’t think of them in any other way except in terms of Starcraft Terran facilities) because that was the best spot in relation to the mall’s parking as well as a bunch of other uninteresting reasons. But, man, are they eyesores! I can’t say I totally enjoy what’s inside the mall, but I do like looking at its outside, and those three places block an otherwise pleasant view. Like the teenager who constantly reminds his parents that he didn’t ask to be born, I bemoan that these places are obviously here to stay. Nonetheless, since one of them has “brew” in its name, I went there the other day.
You’ve probably seen BJ’s in lots of other places, often within sight of a freeway exit and probably near someplace you can buy Skechers. Yes, BJ’s is part of a corporate chain of beer restaurants, based in Huntington Beach, Cal., a city that I know from personal experience feels like it is part of a corporate chain of beach towns. Not me, but someone like me, might expect BJ’s to be corny and terrible, an Applebee’s writ gigantic or a Bennigan’s with a grossly inflated ego. But it’s none of those things. If you can take a vacation from a “drink local” mentality for the duration of a meal, BJ’s is a pretty great place.
My palate being what it is, I couldn’t tell you what was wrong or right about the BJ’s Oktoberfest draft I had. I enjoyed it at least as much as I enjoyed looking around the room, which is to say plenty. Being a chain and all, BJ’s spares no expense. The kitchen may serve a bunch of fried food, but if you order it at the bar, you get to eat it on a marble countertop. Everything else is covered in slate tile that’s impeccably clean. The bartenders know what’s up with their beers, and there’s something like 35 of them on tap, not counting several house-made brews.
“House-made brews” is something of a misnomer because of Texas beer laws, but the tanks you can see through the kitchen window are used to brew BJ’s root beer at least, and I learned that the chain is building its own brewery in Temple. I guess if you really like BJ’s beers, they will soon be ever-so-slightly fresher. I’d love to see someone take the Pepsi challenge to tell an HB-brewed Nutty Brewnette from one brewed in Temple, but that’s putting the cart before the horse or in Starcraft-ier metaphors, the factory before the barracks. And while I will continue to miss the unobstructed view of my favorite example of late-’70s modern architecture, it feels a little better knowing that at least one of the obstructions sells good beer. –– Steve Steward
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BJ’s Restaurant & Brewhouse
4720 S Hulen St, FW.