Friday, April 22, 2005

What The Jester Had For Lunch: AJ's

I was trying to eat a healthier lunch today. Really, I was. The plan was to go to Chipotle and have a vegetarian burrito (filled with their luscious guacamole), but alas I was shanghaied by the delicious aroma of freshly grilled meats coming from the outside grill at AJ's Purveyor of Fine Foods. This, my fellow Chowhounds, is quite possibly the best picnic you'll ever find. Not only do they have burgers and hot dogs, they have Kobe beef hamburgers, and the dogs in AJ's meat department are the best I've ever had. They also have not only grilled chicken sandwiches in THREE different varieties, but you can even get grilled salmon! I went for the Kobe beef burger, laced with cheddar cheese and bacon. Everything about this meal was completely perfect. The burger was one of the juiciest I have ever had, and they used REAL thick cut bacon, cooked up nice and crisp. This is all accentuated by a great burger bun, sturdy enough to stay cohesive but light enough to let the burger and condiments shine through, and wonderfully fresh condiments. On the side were baked beans and macaroni salad, and both of these were exemplary versions; the beans were well-seasoned and tender with hunks of bacon throughout, and the macaroni salad had perfectly chewy pasta married with just enough of the flavorful dressing.

For beverages, there is a wide array of bottled drinks waiting in an ice-filled tub. They will gladly supply you with a cup with real ice cubes should you wish to cool down your drink. The ice cubes were a pleasant surprise- they do quite a bit to enhance the aesthetic of your drink, and they don't water it down nearly as much as the various shapes of ice you find at many other eateries. I had selected a Thomas Kemper grape soda from the refrigerated case at the back of the store, and wish I had picked something else. There just isn't much flavor to this particular potion, and watching the fizz settle is mildly unsettling, as the red coloring slips out of the fizz faster, and the foam turns a swirly electric blue. I'm sure that if you were to partake in *ahem* alternative herbal recreation, you could be entertained for hours with a case of this stuff. They do have a very wide range of beverages both in the tub outside and back at the fridge case, so you'll certainly find something that tickles your fancy.

I will say that my only quibbles about a lunch this spectacular are that parking (at the location I went to on Frank Lloyd Wright and Thompson Peak Parkway) is a nightmare supreme (there were literally three spaces left in the entire parking lot when I got there, and both of them were hiding behind Walgreen's!), and since this is a fancy gourmet lunch at a fancy goumet grocer, it's expensive as hell. My Kobe burger with sides and a drink came to just shy of twelve dollars. Certainly not the kind of place that I can go to every day, but very worthwhile when I have a little extra time and money on my hands. Oh, speaking of money- the outdoor grill only accepts cash. If you have to put it on plastic, you can always go inside to grab your drink, and then get cash back on your debit card. I think that they also let you order and then pay inside at the registers; ask the nice person taking orders at the grill before you get in line if you would like to try it.