Burgers @ JP’s Grill
It’s week three of our continuing coverage of Burger Month in and around The Woodlands. As much as we love a good hamburger or cheeseburger, we just can’t possibly eat as many of them as we’d like to review. So this week we reached out to some friends of ours, and after (very little) arm-twisting, convinced them to come along on our burger expedition. This week’s stop: JP’s Grill, in the Woodwinds Center on Sawdust Road.
So far, we’ve sampled a couple of all-American cheeseburgers at Taco USA, in the Grogan’s Mill Village Center, and stopped in at our reigning favorite, JAX Burgers, Fries & Shakes, at their newest location on Spring Cypress Road.
JP’s Grill is the newest occupant of the space that has been previously occupied by at least two other restaurants with similarly abbreviated names; most recently CJ’s Grill and BT’s Grill. But the similarities all but stop there. When co-owner, manager and chef James Plog out to create JP’s Grill, it was a from-the-bottom-up approach which included a completely overhauled interior, new furnishings and paint, new decor, remodeled bathrooms and kitchen, new kitchen equipment, new staff, and of course, a whole new menu. Gone is the dark, smoky bar of yore; a bright, welcoming, family-friendly restaurant is in it’s place, complete with umbrellaed tables out front for good, old fashioned outdoor dining.
Though JP’s Grill is new, James Plog’s experience in the kitchen, and with running a restaurant goes way back. James started out 30 years ago up in Chicago, where he interned in the kitchens of the world-famous Drake Hotel.
One of the small joys of having company along with us is the opportunity to try some appetizers before our meal. The far greater joy being the ability to share and enjoy each other’s company. But it’s also kind of a “working meal” so to speak… At any rate, we ordered a sampler platter ($14.95), with four different selections which are all made in-house: fried pickles – hand-battered dill slices, Texas toothpicks – hand-battered sliced jalapeño and onion sticks, medium chicken wings (JP’s makes the sauce), and chips & queso (JP’s own blend of queso). We were also treated to a cup of JP’s own homemade salsa with the chips.
The fried pickles were the table-round tie for favorite amongst the apps, with the Texas toothpicks a close second all around. All of us were especially pleased with the combination of JP’s salsa and the fried pickles; thought not actually served together regularly (the pickles usually come with Ranch dressing), our guest gave it a try and pronounced it good. Other accolades included, “best fried pickles I’ve had in a long time,” “I didn’t think I’d like the jalapeño sticks, but those are awesome!” “You gotta try the queso on the jalapeño,” and so forth. And yes, the salsa dipped fried pickles were very interesting – surprisingly tasty actually. The wings, while tasty, were surprisingly milder than we had expected, so if you like spicy, you may want to up the ante from medium to Atomic. But a word of warning on that Atomic Sauce…
I like things spicy, but I have my limits. I initially set my sites on the Atomic Burger ($10.75 for half-pound size), a jalapeño- and onion-stuffed patty, mustard, lettuce, tomato, onions, pickles, bacon, cheddar cheese, topped with JP’s own homemade Atomic Sauce. I’m not a big fan of really hot, pepper sauces so I asked for a taste of the Atomic Sauce before placing my order, and I’m glad I did. James starts with Hot Line Pepper Products‘ Ghost Pepper Sauce – made with ghost pepper (Bhut Jolokia) and jabanero peppers made by our friend and fellow foodie, Kerry Stessel. Add a little Frank’s Red Hot Sauce – made from aged cayenne peppers – plus his own secret blend of ingredients and you have it, Atomic Hot Sauce. One pinky-dip in, and let me tell you, the burn starts slow and mellow, then grows as it spreads across your tongue, with a steady burn that several sips of water couldn’t quite quench. The burger usually comes with mayonnaise as well, but I changed that out for some good ‘ol yellow mustard.
And so it arrives, the Atomic Burger in all of it’s massive glory. This is one large sandwich and while the other guys were gracefully cutting their burgers in half, I was anxiously trying to open my jaws wide enough to get that first bite. This of course, was difficult at best as the burger is really thick and juicy. Let me tell you, that burger was every bit as juicy and tasty as it looks below. And yes, without the atomic sauce, it technically wasn’t an “atomic burger” but, based on my small sample of the sauce, it’s unlikely that I would have been able to eat the entire burger or at least my taste buds wouldn’t have been able to decipher all the great flavors. I enjoy spicy foods and medium-warm jalapeños, but I will pass on the ‘mouth on fire’ hot foods.
Though JP’s Grill offers a fantastic variety of burger options – I mean, come on, the King? With peanut butter, jelly & banana? Get outta here! – I chickened out and went with the classic Americana Burger ($7.75 for the quarter-pounder), with mayo, mustard, lettuce, tomato, pickles and American cheese. Though I did make a couple of modifications, exchanging the American cheese for cheddar and (of course!) adding bacon.
All of JP’s beef burgers (because yes, there is also a buffalo burger, turkey burger and a veggie burger on the menu) are Creekstone Farms, 100% Black Angus beef, made from a signature blend of ground chuck and brisket. Enhancing that juicy and flavorful blend is a light seasoning of simple salt and pepper, which, in my opinion, is the best way to accent a good ground beef. Complimenting that wonderful patty are crisp, fresh veggies, high-quality cheese, and for me, a generous stack of crispy bacon.
At JP’s, you get your choice of three different bun types: Sweet Sourdough, Jalapeño-Cheddar, or Whole Wheat. I’d previously had the Sweet Sourdough, and it is amazing. This time around I opted for the Jalapeño-Cheddar, and while I did like the flavor, I (along with others in our party) found it quickly became overwhelmed by the juices of the burger, veggies and condiments, allowing it to crumble into several large chunks. The silver lining on this mildly gray cloud was the knowledge that the Houston-based Sheila Partin Bakery is aware of the issue, and that it is due to real cheese being used in their buns, as opposed to some powdered cheese-flavoring ingredient. James stopped by our table after our meal and offered up this explanation. He says they’re working out the kinks with every batch.
With us this evening were some good friends we’ve come to know through our membership in the Woodlands Area Chamber of Commerce. He’s a community advocate, regularly volunteering countless hours to numerous local charities and their associated events, in addition to his work at Interfaith of The Woodlands. By his side is his delightful bride, also a most generous-hearted community advocate. When not busy with volunteer activities, or traveling the country on behalf of Consolidated Communications, she can be found cooking up a storm as an accomplished chef in her own right.
Citing “trying to eat healthy,” he had initially ordered a Buffalo Burger, but as fate would have it, what he ended up with was a Marty’s Burger ($8.75 for the quarter-pound size) – with grilled mushrooms, Swiss cheese, bacon and mayonnaise (though he skipped the mayo). Once it arrived he wouldn’t let the somewhat-flummoxed waitress (it was only her first day) take it back, claiming one look at it and he knew he had to eat it. Throughout the meal he said on several occasions how fantastic it was, and the mushrooms especially were wonderful. He also loved his side order of tater-tots, explaining the preference for those that are tender-crisp potato puffs as opposed to those hollow, chewy, sorry-excuses you sometimes get at other places.
She’s got a spicy-streak in her, and went with the Jalapeño Burger ($9.75 for the quarter-pound size), with a jalapeño-stuffed patty, mayonnaise (omitted), mustard, lettuce, tomato, onions (also omitted), pickles, bacon and cheddar cheese. She also had the jalapeño-cheddar bun, and was a little let down with the crumbliness of it. Aside from that, though, she claimed it was the “best burger I’ve had a long time.” She also proclaimed her love of the fries, made with skin-on potatoes cut not-too-thick and not-too-thin… just right.
JP’s Grill is just getting started, and we unanimously agreed everything is coming up rosy. Sure, there are a few kinks – the air conditioning is a bit too cold and downward-directed, and while so much about JP’s Grill is new, so are the wait-staff, creating a few hiccups in the ordering and delivery process; likewise with the auxiliary kitchen staff. But none of these issues are remotely large enough to keep us from returning again and again. With time, we’re confident all of them will disappear (yes, even the pesky A/C issue, James says he’s working on the landlord about that).
JP’s official Grand Opening isn’t until Sunday, June 16, according to their Facebook page, but if you act quickly, you can get there and have a fantastic burger before the rest of the world finds them, and the line ends up out the door. Don’t hesitate; you’ll be sorry!