Before the storm

Last semester, Bwog heard that JJ’s place was getting a face-lift. Last night was the big reveal, so we paid a visit to John Jay’s cozy (read: sweltering) basement kitchen for a taste of the new JJ’s.

There are many things a Columbia student might want after a long night in Butler—an espresso, a basket of curly fries, a hug—but an hour-long wait for a cheeseburger isn’t one of them. At 11 pm on Monday night, the food-service section of the new JJ’s was sleekly decorated, brightly colored, and a total shitshow. Caught between an overused smoothie machine and a sauna-esque grill, Bwog took its place in line behind 50 or so hungry strangers and waited. And waited. And waited.

Though Bwog expected the snaking, uncoordinated line that led up to the grill counter, wait times were exponentially lengthened by rampant misconduct among our peers. Due to haphazard organization and a startling lack of moral fiber, half of the people who showed up after Bwog either joined friends farther up the line or not-so-subtly squeezed between people ordering at the front. Though earlier in the night there was a healthy crowd waiting behind us, about halfway through Bwog suddenly found ourselves dead last—not because everyone behind us gave up and left, but because what should have been an orderly process of waiting your turn had degraded into a chaotic free-for-all. Yes, cutting shortens your wait significantly, but taking advantage of the system makes literally everyone else worse off. Standing in line is a zero-sum game: the staff can only serve so many burgers at a time, and shoving through to the front isn’t going to change that.

Luckily (and for no apparent reason), patrons who only wanted wings and fries were allowed to skip straight to the frier, grab their food, and escape to the larger, well air-conditioned, but otherwise much-the-same dining room. Determined to get our hands on a cheeseburger, Bwog wolfed down our buffalo and Thai chili wings standing up. While the new variety of sauces was a pleasant change, the wings themselves were indistinguishable from last year’s: edible, pleasantly crunchy, and nothing exceptional. The curly fries were also unchanged, though slightly less salty. Then Bwog’s stoned friend threw away half the order, which put a damper on the mood.

After getting its fix of sodium and saturated fat, Bwog took a break to check out the brand-spanking-new Jamba Juice self-serve machines, which look like a healthy version of the Slurpee dispensers at 7/11. Unfortunately, the mix takes about ten minutes to obtain a smoothie-like consistency, so Bwog was only able to sample two of the flavors. Both the mango pineapple and raspberry orange tasted fine, but the raspberry was so thick that it was almost undrinkable, while our cup of mango pineapple had the runny, unappetizing texture of melted ice cream. Like the grill station, the Jamba Juice kiosk clearly wasn’t designed to keep up with the hordes of diners that inevitably flock to JJ’s on a nightly basis.

At the conclusion of Bwog’s grueling gauntlet through the burger line, we were presented with a veritable cornucopia of toppings, including all the standards (lettuce, tomato, pickles, etc.), plus some more exciting options like crumbled blue cheese and caramelized onions. The burger itself was certainly an improvement, but by no means did it live up to the rumored “better than Five Guys.” Instead of a withered gray slab, the patty was pink, fresh, and juicy, but the massive doughy bun would have drowned even the juiciest burger. But hey, at least it’s free already paid for.

Although the renovations were an aesthetically pleasing addition to the JJ’s experience, the food just wasn’t worth the ridiculous wait. Despite the health-conscious addition of Jamba Juice and vegetarian options, JJ’s remains what it has always been: a place to indulge on empty calories, then hate yourself for it the next morning. The more things change, the more the grease-laden food coma stays the same.

Photos via Columbia Dining