By Bernie Whitmore
380 Southwest Cutoff, Northborough
(Junction of Rtes 9 & 20 at the Shrewsbury/Northborough line)
Something good has been happening to sports bar food and JJ’s seems to be setting the trend. True, they have all the sports bar excitement you’d expect, starting with plenty of video. From my booth, deep in their cavernous great-room, I didn’t even try to count all the screens. Later on I checked their website and discovered they have over 28 Hi-Def Displays and a 137” Big Screen that projects the Red Sox larger than life. And there’s plenty to drink; when I asked about draft beers our waitress replied, “We have everything!”
On top of all that, every day is special at JJ’s with plenty of live music on the schedule. The evening we went happened to be kids’ night (but on Sat. and Sun. nights they’ve got some great live “adult” rock bands playing ~ hence why there’s often a large contingent of cool musician patrons on the weekends): in an adjoining room, a trio of tween girls was engaged in some manner of high-pitched cheering competition. The result: a sensory-rich wall of excitement that completely blows away any concerns you may have walked in with.
(In warmer months, people who prefer less stimulation might elect to dine out on the deck and enjoy the relative calm of the intersection of Routes 9 & 20.)
But JJ’s is a Sports Bar and Grill. While they’ve certainly got the sport bar down cold, it hasn’t been at the expense of their kitchen. We discovered this fact as soon as we dug into our appetizer of “Wings Your Way.”
We elected “buffalo-hot / bone-in” style but they also come mild, wow!, BBQ, and teriyaki. These were larger-than-average wings and drumsticks that tasted like good clean chicken with just enough buffalo-burn. “The way buffalo wings should taste,” my friend approved. By this, he meant good-honest chicken, not those wing units that have been frozen forever in bags with unclean flavor from some industrial production line. They were served with celery sticks and chunky-cool bleu cheese dressing. A thumbs-up start!
I cooled down my buffalo-burn with a glass of Wachusett Green Monsta’ Ale. When I purchased my first case of Monsta’ I thought it was a one-summer gimmick. But Wachusett has come up with a brew worthy of its name. This deep coppery-colored ale has an assertive flavor of hops and a tangy bitter edge. It’s just fine poured from the bottle, but go to JJ’s and try a draft.
In addition to soups, salads, sandwiches and entrees, JJ’s menu offers a section of signature burgers. I was particularly intrigued by “The Heart Attack:” two half-pound burger patties lubed with mayonnaise and topped with cheese, bacon, lettuce and tomato ~ then stuffed between two grilled cheese sandwiches. It sounds like enough for an entire table of those kids in the other room.
But I pushed that temptation aside and ordered JJ’s Sizzling Fajitas. These were so sizzlin’ the server left them down near the edge of the table and warned me, “Don’t touch!” so they could safely stop sputtering hot juices. But of course I touched ~ this was a combo of steak and chicken served with a round box of steamed flour tortillas and a dish of chopped tomatoes, salsa, shredded cheese and sour cream ~ way too good to leave alone.
The cast iron skillet kept a pile of strips of fried peppers and onions as hot as the meat, so I went to work building bulging rolls of fajita. JJ’s marinade was very tasty without being salty; it evenly coated the big chunks of steak and juicy chicken. There was plenty of extra, even after loading four tortillas.
My friend proudly held up half his Reuben Sandwich so that I could see its thick stack of thin-sliced lean corned beef ~ at least two inches deep topped with a layer of sauerkraut and stretchy Swiss cheese. All this was crammed between slices of grilled marble rye spread with Thousand Island dressing and served with a mound of golden French fries.
Yeah…there was a time when I had low expectations of the food served at sports bars. But no longer; JJ’s Sports Bar and Grill has raised the bar by teaming up fun times with delicious food and drink. No wonder it’s packed!