Jack Brown’s Beer and Burger Joint was the setting for this week’s Eating with Esquire. I initially heard about Jack’s from my brother Jeff, and it had nothing to do with the food. Jeff explained that Jack’s had this thing called the 100 Notch Club and the way you become a member is by drinking 100 of the countless beer options that Jack’s offers. Once you hit your hundredth, you are officially a Notcher, which includes benefits like a custom-embroidered bowling shirt with Notch Club patch, access to Notcher-only featured beers, Notcher field trips, and other associated perks. This is something that I should have told y’all from the outset, but The Bearded Barrister loves all things eating and drinking challenge. If I can complete a feat of eat and you’ll put my picture on the wall, I am in! If there is an article of clothing involved that denotes my feat, ballgame. They could have only offered the personalized bowling shirt, and I would have been in. And this doesn’t even touch the food. It’s a burger and fries joint. What’s more American than that?! All of this meant Jack’s had to be the next stop on the E.W.E. tour.
Place: Jack Brown’s Beer and Burger Joint – RVA location
Specialty: Craft beer and burgers. Two of my favorite food groups.
Full disclosure here, I eat at Jack’s fairly regularly. As such, this entry is less a review of my one-time eating experience, and more a conglomeration of multiple visits with multiple people. In my perfect world, each of my visits there would begin like all of Norm Peterson’s visits to Cheers began, with the entire bar serenading me in unison with my name. One can dream. Here are the DEATS on Jack’s.
Drink: I’m breaking all of the rules this week. Guidelines are out the window. I have no idea what Jack’s serves for drinks outside of water and beer. That is literally all I have ever ordered there and all I plan on ordering there. This is why – not only do they have a fantastic rotating tap of beers on draft, but they also have a hundred or more choices in bottles and cans. If you’ll remember from the original E.W.E. post, I discussed the importance of having local beers. Well, by going to Jack’s, you don’t just have the option of drinking RVA’s local beers, but the local beer from craft brewers all across the country. You can take a cross-country roadtrip of craft beer right from your barstool at Jack’s. And as mentioned earlier, you’ll have to take multiple cross-country trips to complete your Notcher list. I’m almost embarraseed to say, my tally sits at a measly 21. For shame! Get to Jack’s and get notch’n, folks.
Edibles: Even if you don’t like beer and have no interest in drinking beer, Jack Brown’s is worth the visit just for the burgers. I’ve eaten a lot of burgers all across this great land, and Jack’s is easily on my Top 5 list. They use Wagyu beef, which is American-style Kobe, sourced from Snake River Farms in Eastern Idaho. It’s the cream of the crop, yall. Just packed with flavor. I am cheeseburger guy. Don’t bring me any nekkid hamburger to eat. But I gotta be honest, I could eat Jack’s with no cheese. The beef is that good. My baby sis, the oracle who led me to Talley’s, thinks the buns used by Jack’s make their burgers elite. She used to live in NYC and told me they remind her of Shake Shack’s buns. I’ve never had Shake Shack (I know, I know. Travesty.), but baby sis will cut you for a Shake Shack burger so it’s gotta be high praise. Jack’s does every day burgers, and then they also do specialty burgers each day of the week. I have yet to go on a Sunday, but The Showalter is the Sunday burger special and it’s a burger topped with bacon, egg, and cheese with a glazed dougnut in place of the bun. Um, yes, please. I get the same burger every time I go. I strayed one time and it’ll never happen again (unless I go on a Sunday). If you go, just get the Greg Brady. It’s a burger topped with house-made mac n’ cheese and BBQ potato chips. It’s just diabolical. My desert island burger. If they served the mac n’ cheese as a standalone side, I could eat a full bowl as a meal. Just gooey and cheesy and delicious. Then you get the crunch from the chips and it is the perfect bite. I always pair it with a a side of french fries, of which I am a pretty staunch critic. If there were a pyramid of french fries, the crinkle-cut fry would be at the top, just reigning supreme over the french fry world. Jack’s does crinkle-cuts and they are the perfect accoutrement to the Greg Brady. If you’re ever looking for a sidekick for your first Jack’s visit, call me and I’ll be there.
Atmosphere: My great-grandmother, Mom Bernice (pronounced BUR-niss), was, shall we say, frugal. She was tight. If we went over to her house as kids, she would tear a stick of gum in half, and then tear that half in half, and that was the amount of gum you had to chew. And we’re not talking these fancy, new-fangled gums like Trident Ice and Wintergreen where the flavor can last for like 20 minutes; I’m talking old-school, Wrigley’s Doublemint in the green packaging – two chews and all the flavor was gone. As you can imagine, for Mom Bernice, going out to eat was a luxury. If she went out to eat, it had to be some place special. Some place, as she would say, that had “atmosphere”. (It should be noted that she most famously described Lowery’s Restaurant in Tappahannock as having “atmosphere” so take that for what it’s worth).
My Pops always tells the story of how our Pop (great-grandfather) used to take Mom Bernice out to eat at her places with “atmosphere”, they’d do so in his black Dodge panel truck. It was like an old milk truck, a one-seater. Since there was no passenger seat, Mom Bernice would have to sit on a wooden milk crate. Also, the truck had no heat, but Mom Bernice didn’t know that. The truck had a red dash light that would illuminate for some reason or another and as long as it was on, she thought the heater worked. As if hearkening back to that old pickup, the bar at Jack’s is constructed out of an old Chevy tailgate, with the brake lights still intact. I have no idea if this is who made it, but there is a place in Roanoke called Black Dog Salvage – they have a show on DIY called Salvage Dawgs that I love – that does work like this. In fact, I think one of the episodes featured them making a tailgate bar tap almost identical to this. The original Jack’s is in Harrisonburg and they also have a location in Roanoke so I feel like there are too many coincidences for it not to be a Black Dog Salvage piece. Regardless, it’s cool. They also have a wagon wheel chandelier with a disco ball attached to it and the wagon wheel is adorned with an array of bras. I don’t have the full story on this, but it’s too bizarre not to mention. Just like their food and drink, Jack’s is top-notch in the atmosphere arena.
Transportation: Jack’s is situated on Grove Avenue near Libbie, and is next door to Pearl’s Cupcake Shoppe (definitely Bearded Barrister approved). There is no dedicated parking lot so your options are mostly street parking. I’ve been anywhere from 11 am to 2 pm and I have never had a problem finding a parking spot. You may need to brush up on your parallel parking skills. It is kind of tucked away in the Grove-Libbie area so you can’t just hop off of the interstate and be there. I usually go down either Patterson or Monument and hit Grove to get there.
Service: This is a casual spot and the service reflects that perfectly. You never have to worry about anybody hovering over you or interrupting your conversations. Your drinks will stay full and the food is always delivered quickly. The beer knowledge that the staff possesses is definitely an asset. Based on beers that you generally drink, they will make astute recommendations based off of their vast knowledge of their inventory.
Final Verdict: If there is a better place in Richmond to have a burger and drink a beer, I haven’t found it. Bearded Barrister approved!