Let me start by saying that I know that J. Alexanders is a chain restaurant. If you have read my post on Drunk & Full about how I feel with regard to chain restaurants, then you would think I wouldn’t be going here. Seems like I have been eating at a lot of chains recently for some unknown reason. Check this moment of clarity: the J. Alexander’s chain does it different. Not sure how, but every time I go there they have great food and top notch service. The prices are a little steep, but I think that the overall experience makes up for it.
This restaurant is always busy at lunch. Over the last six years, I have probably eaten here forty or fifty times, almost always at lunch. Try to get there by 11:45 to get a bar table. The funny thing is that I have only had about ten things on the menu. No need to stray when you have some favorites. There are two dishes in particular that I really have to think about before I order to make sure I am getting exactly what I want that day. The first is the Grilled Chicken Salad, which is in the picture. This salad is really incredible. It has some great crunch with the thin tortilla strips, freshness from the mixed greens, moisture from the perfectly delicious dressing and everything else I love with the tomatoes, feta and juicy chicken. The croissant you see is made in house and has a honey butter on it. So good that you want a dozen, but know one is more than enough. When I order this salad, I get extra feta which they bring in a little cup alongside the salad. No charge either- fantastic. This salad stands no chance when it is set down in front of me. I have had about half of their salads and this one is far and away the best.
The other meal that pulls at my gut is the Veggie Burger. WHAT? A VEGGIE BURGER? No, I am not a vegetarian, as you should know from the other blog posts that are a carnivores wet dream. It took quite some time and a lot of convincing by some good friends of mine for me to order the burger. The first time I ordered it was under duress. It was for dinner the day that Jackson was born. I had been up for 70 hours or something and figured that the salad wouldn’t travel well. My friend Dan asked me if I was feeling okay since I ordered the veggie burger. I told him just to please bring food. It was fantastic. I have had other veggie burgers, mostly based on dares, and none even hold a glimmer of hope at tasting good compared to this one. This burger is HUGE. Probably just slightly under 2 inches thick and as wide as a large kaiser roll. It comes with lettuce, tomato, cheese and some really good mayo on it. It even smells great when they bring it out.
We have been trying to figure out exactly what is in this burger but so far have only come up with some rice and grain. It is house made and the other ingredients will probably forever remain a mystery to me. I’m okay with that, so long as it keeps on tasting delicious. I like the fact that it is house made as well. Unlike Michael Symon’s B-Spot that serves Morningstar Veggie Burgers, it shows that J. Alexander’s has the veggie burger figured out. They spent some time on it and have converted at least ten carnivores that I know to try this monstrosity. It comes with a side of fries (the thin kind that are crispy- yumm.) This is more than a meal and will stick to your ribs well through dinner. Think of how you feel hours after downing a Chipotle Burrito. Transfer that thought to a post-meal J. Alexander’s Veggie Burger. Hands down, the best veggie burger I think you will eat.
Like I said, the service here is way too good to be part of a chain. When you walk in and out of the restaurant, they open and close the door for you. Unnecessary, but a really nice touch. Your wait staff are quick, friendly and pay attention to their customers needs rather than their own. If you are at a lunch meeting and are in a discussion, they don’t hover over your table until someone acknowledges them. They come back when there is a break in the conversation. Typically, we sit at the bar booths which are perfect for a quick lunch. The bartenders are responsible for the service which is usually a service nightmare at most restaurants. At J. Alexander’s, they are incredible at what they do. I don’t remember the last time that my iced tea even reached half way empty before there was another at the table. Although the staff are required to upsell you on apps when you sit down, there are no other complaints about the service. Nice job J. Alexanders.
The restaurant itself is huge and has an excellent atmosphere about it. The kitchen is open, but not the focal point of the restaurant. There bar area is separate from the main dining area and the main dining area has several levels which breaks up the floor. They have an outside seating area which is nice in Cleveland. The only issue with sitting outside is that the chairs weigh an absolute ton. The chairs look like they were meant to be bolted into the ground. Cast iron, huge and ridiculously heavy- nobody is making off with their patio furniture. Take that, would-be Beachwood area patio furniture thieves.
There are two complaints I have for J. Alexanders. The first is they do not allow take-out orders over the phone. You actually have to go in, order and sit at the bar while you wait. I can’t tell you the number of times we have been driving back from Chautauqua and would have picked up some J. Alexanders to bring home. I don’t get why they don’t take orders over the phone. What’s the point of having a phone in a restaurant? The other point of contention is the website. It’s flash based and really not good. For this review I was hoping to see a menu so I could tell you about more stuff that we have ordered. I know they have locations all over the US and that many locations have different items on the menu. That is really no excuse not to have the menu online. Programmers at J. Alexander’s, do your homework and get on it. You can find the locations, just add a menu feature to that page. It’s simple, really.
I have been to the J. Alexanders in Atlanta, GA, in Scottsdale, AZ and very frequently in Beachwood, OH. The service at each is top notch, the food is excellent and the restaurants are very well maintained. Whatever equation this chain follows from the management down to the expediters, it works. There are so many other chains that could follow suit, but don’t. Nice work J. Alexanders. You will remain in my rotation.