MJ's Burgers: Cheers to Second Chances
We'd tried MJ's at Souk el Akel months ago and left with poor impressions of the burger. It came charred black, and we kindly requested it to be remade. Half an hour later, we were presented with a different specimen, which, while of more edible doneness, was wholly without seasoning or oomph. I couldn’t understand what the fuss on social media was all about.
The other night, equipped with a Zomato voucher, we resolved to give the joint a second shot, and this time they had home court advantage.
MJ’s is situated on a quiet street in Mar Mikhael parallel to the throbbing Armenia Street. We arrived around 6:45 on a Tuesday evening, pushing past the heavy door to expose a dimly-lit, narrow dining hall with a small counter at the end.
Immediately you notice a wooden bench running the length of the restaurant and seating about 20 diners. There are two additional benches suited for couples diners, but MJ’s seems to be doing two things here. In maximizing their occupancy, they are in effect encouraging guests to rub elbows with each other. This is, after all, a very casual eatery.
A pleasant young lady named Hind seated us and pointed at the massive chalkboard menu. We advised it was our first visit, and she duly recommended the cheeseburger, MJ’s, and the Diablo. Our focus being strictly burgers, we steered away from the frills, including the notorious rosemary fries and beer mustard dipping sauce.
Within ten minutes, our orders descended upon the table. Small metal trays plating humble burgers reflected an austerely simple presentation. The light, airy bun common to all burgers is reminiscent of BRGR.CO, shunning sesame seeds and oats and posing merely as a protective jacket for the patty. It bears hints of sweetness.
The patty comes thick rather than wide. It has an ethereally crispy shell and releases steam when you sink your canines into it, surely because of the high temperature at which it is cooked. There is no question as to its premium quality and freshness.
Each burger is animated with sweet onion relish, the result of caramelization, not added sugar. The cheeseburger (18,000 LL) can be had with either cheddar, Gruyere or blue cheese, and this isn’t your processed, sliced variety. The cheddar is thickly cut from a block of cheese and co-exists beautifully with the Angus beef. You can opt for the recommended sweet chili mayo, but even devoid of dressing, the burger is moist and delightful.
MJ’s burger (22,000 LL), the house specialty, features grilled red bell peppers and eggplants with a homemade cream cheese spread that borrows its kick from rosemary. It is superb.
Beware the Diablo (19,000 LL), which teems with jalapeños and a spicy sauce. I couldn't handle its piquancy and much preferred the cheeseburger and MJ’s.
A reasonable concern would be the restaurant's pricing scheme. At first glance, 18,000 - 22,000 LL seems much too much for an admittedly gourmet street burger sans the usual sides. Add fries and a soft drink, the meal weighs in at 30,000 LL (USD 20), which for a cafeteria-style eatery is certainly on the high end.
However, the meat that MJ's imports is Australian Black Angus of the highest grade (MB3+), as owner Mohamad Jaroudi imparted to me, and it is never blended with other cuts. Ingredients incorporated in the burgers are not processed, and the majority of foodstuffs are homemade, which further drives up the cost.
Bearing those factors in mind, MJ's manages to keep its pricing in check while still delivering a premium bundle of joy.