Maybe it’s my contrarian nature, but I have a habit of not reviewing places if the Boise Weekly or the Idaho Statesman have done so recently. This sometimes holds true even if it’s a place I desperately want to check out. It’s even worse if the place has gotten national exposure. I enjoy seeking out the places that nobody knows about, nobody talks about, or that everyone is so used to being around that they never really examine them.
Occasionally, someone contacts me about what they consider to be an egregious oversight on my part. For example, a few months back I got an e-mail from a guy named Jim who couldn’t believe that with all the burger write-ups I’ve done, Big Jud’s wasn’t among them. It’s not that I didn’t want to try the place, and in fact I’d been curious about them ever since I saw them on Man V. Food, but that same exposure made me less interested in writing about them. My time and resources are limited enough that when it comes to deciding where to eat, a place that I can get a write-up out of will usually win. Still, this local burger institution and I were bound to cross paths eventually, and with a little incentive from Groupon I finally made the short trip to Big Jud’s. It’s a trip I hope to make again. And again. And again…
Right away, the most surprising thing to me about Big Jud’s is how small their location is. I guess if you paid attention you might have caught it on Man V. Food, but I certainly didn’t. The restaurant is literally only three car widths across.
|Big Jud’s, little building|
The building is rectangular and has a little more depth, but it doesn’t help much since the kitchen takes up most of the difference. The popularity of the place and the lack of seating means that things can get really crowded really quickly, but the burger gods were on my side that Saturday evening and a solitary empty booth awaited us when we entered. The cast of characters for the evening consisted of my roommate, her two children, and your not-so-humble narrator. The first order of business was to order drinks, which with this group is usually Mountain Dews all around. In the first of many instances that night proving that Big Jud’s does nothing on a small scale, the adult sodas were big enough to ensure that refills would not be needed.
|They should consider selling drinks this size in a souvenir sports bottle.|
The roommate chose the bacon cheeseburger without a moment’s hesitation. The four year-old selected the hamburger from the kid’s menu (the kid’s menu contains no cheeseburger, which I considered a little odd for a place that has so many burger options, but of course they’ll add cheese if you ask). The nine year-old, as she so often does, flew in the face of conventional wisdom and ordered a grilled cheese sandwich. As for me, my Groupon was for the Big Jud’s Special: a one pound burger with all the fixings, cheddar cheese, and a large fry that I swapped for tater tots when given the option. I wish I could say everything was stellar but that wasn’t quite the case, so let’s get the less-than-stellar out of the way…
|Grilled Cheese sandwich from the kid’s menu|
The nigh-tween, when asked about her sandwich, pronounced it “okay”. Frankly, unless there’s some seriously gourmet bread and cheese involved, a grilled cheese sandwich is not something I would order in a restaurant, and I think that’s a pretty universal standard which is why it’s usually relegated to the children’s menu. I’m certainly not going to fault Big Jud’s for the prototypical “safe” option, so let’s move on.
|Big Jud’s big fries|
I was thrilled when the fries were brought out even though I myself am more of a tater tot guy. These were huge, skin still on, and Big Jud’s is kind enough to provide each table with their own bottle of fry sauce. That alone sets them far above most of their competition. Unfortunately, the fries are probably the weakest thing on the menu here. They were limp, a little on the oily side, and the roommate added salt to them, which is something she NEVER does. Everyone at our table picked at and then mostly abandoned them.
|A huge order of tots|
Unfortunately for yours truly, the tots didn’t fare much better. They were the shade of dark gold/light brown that indicates overcooking or old oil, and by the way they fell apart when dipped into the fry sauce it was obviously the latter. At least if they were overcooked they would have had some crunch to them. I’ve checked out reviews on other sites and talked to other people who have eaten at Big Jud’s, and apparently our experience wasn’t unique. Once again, considering how beloved fries and tater tots are, it’s amazing that it’s so hard to find them done well. Luckily for us, the sandwiches here are so massive that a side dish isn’t really needed.
|The Big Jud and the bacon cheeseburger|
My roomie’s bacon cheeseburger was not small by any stretch of the imagination, which made the massive scale of my own Big Jud burger almost frightening. There are a lot of places that do a one pound burger, which is usually accomplished by stacking patties. Not here, my friends. The Big Jud is a single, plate-sized patty served on a custom, plate-sized bun. I was a little jealous for a split second when I saw that the normal burgers are served on buns dusted with cornmeal since it’s my favorite type, but I had more than enough to contend with and didn’t even try a bite of my roomie’s sandwich.
|And if you think that’s bad, check it out next to the kid-sized burger!|
The Big Jud (or even more horrifying Double Big Jud) is so huge, it’s not uncommon to see people sharing them. In fact, they make allowances for that by having meals available that consist of one Big Jud burger and several orders of fries and drinks or ice cream. A guy at a nearby table was undertaking the challenge where if you eat an entire Big Jud’s special within the allotted time (20 or 30 minutes I think) and without leaving your table, you can purchase a special t-shirt and get your picture on the wall. Do it with a Double Big Jud and you go on another wall with a much smaller amount of pictures. As for myself, there was no way in hell that was happening, so I cut the burger in half.
|Cross-section of the Big Jud|
After another moment’s consideration, I cut the halves in half as well. Now that the thing was in a size manageable enough that I could take a bite without destroying my outfit or fouling the table in front of me, I finally got to taste it.
|Big Jud, pie style|
Those of you who have been reading my stuff for a while know that I went through sort of an existential burger crisis a while back. I was trying them every way and place I could, and none of them were satisfying me. The fast food burgers didn’t have the quality ingredients or substance that I wanted, the restaurant ones were too conceptual, and everyone else was using poor quality ingredients or cooking them wrong. I still don’t know what I was looking for exactly, but I found it at Big Jud’s. Despite being something of a novelty burger, it was still the perfect diner style. Soft bread, juicy meat that was still ever so slightly pink, perfectly balanced condiments (I never order mustard on a burger, for example, but here it was in perfect harmony with everything else), and the veggies…crisp lettuce, firm pickles, some of the most beautifully bright red tomato I’ve had in ages, and absolutely perfect onions. Just like that, an itch that had been driving me crazy for months was completely soothed. It was one of those moments where a single bite of food, whether utterly simple or insanely high end, brings total happiness. Of course, it didn’t hurt that I paid the extra three bucks for bacon. Best decision I made all day. Three bucks may sound like a lot, but consider the size of the burger. If I could think of a descriptive that was better than “perfect”, I would apply it to that bacon. Not a limp, rubbery piece to be found. Turns out they deep fry it. A little frightening to be sure, but SO worth it. While I was lost in my reverie, the roommate said something to the effect of that from now on when she thinks “cheeseburger”, Big Jud’s will probably come immediately to mind. I couldn’t agree more.
Believe it or not, I’ve actually been sitting on this review for some time now, wanting to go back and at least try one of their more sanely-sized sandwiches before writing up the place. However, I’m getting pressure from a few different sides to get it posted and the roommate obviously vouches for the quality of the regular burgers. I doubt it will warrant a new review when I return, but I’ll probably post the pictures on Facebook. Then again, maybe I’ll leave the camera at home and just enjoy myself. Even unpaid amateur food critics need a night off from time to time.
Food: A- (had to score a little lower for the fries and tots)
Final Grade: A-