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Beach Bums
Out of a possible five

A day at the Beach: Fun is on the menu

You would be hard-pressed to find anyone who couldn’t use a trip to the beach this time of year.

And although Miami or Cabo San Lucas would have been better, the only beach I could afford to visit was on Washington Center Road.

Alas, there were no swimsuits being donned inside, but Beach Bums did its best to make me feel I was sitting on the sand. This former Fricker’s restaurant has an aquatic atmosphere with a blue hue everywhere you look and sharks on the walls, on the menus and on the sign out front. My kids thought the huge models hanging from the ceiling were super cool, and they really dug the cozy little room up front called The Cove, which didn’t have any sharks but did have a big dolphin and a stingray.

So this had to be a seafood joint, right? The name and décor fit, but take a closer look at the sign and you will notice it also says, “Gourmet burgers and more.” Beach Bums’ menu features nine hamburger varieties and four other “burgers” made from chicken, fish, turkey and vegetables.

Both of the beef varieties I tried were great. The Beach Party BLT had a big, juicy, flavorful burger topped with bacon, lettuce, tomato, American cheese (Swiss, cheddar and Monterrey Jack were the other choices) and mayonnaise. It came on a fresh kaiser roll and was simple but delicious.

The Hurricane Burger was Beach Bums’ version of a Philly sandwich with grilled mushrooms, onion and green peppers, pepper jack and mayo. It got a little added oomph from its flavorful onion roll. The burger, again, was great, and the toppings were perfectly sautéed so the peppers still were bright green and had some snap to them. They only thing I questioned is why in the heck they didn’t just call it the Philly Burger. I guess that just wasn’t beachy enough.

The Throw Back Turkey Burger did not take a back seat to the beef in terms of quality.

It was seared beautifully to give it a little texture, and the ground turkey was juicy. It was not at all bland, but the turkey patty did not have enough inherent flavor to stand up to the rather strong chipotle mayonnaise, which made this a fiery sandwich.

The smoked jalapenos worked much better on Beach Bums’ chipotle-barbecue chicken wings. Although the regular hot wings were good by most standards, they could not hold a candle to the chipotle sauce, which was more sweet than hot. The peppers added just the right hint of spice to the sauce.

The wings highlighted an impressive lineup of appetizers. The potato skins were touted as being homemade, and they lived up to the hype. These hollowed-out potatoes had a lot of potato left, which isn’t often the case when it comes to skins. They were topped with just enough melted cheddar and chunks of real bacon (not bits), and were great with a smear of sour cream.

Another homemade specialty worth trying was Beach Bums’ chili, which I knew I should try from the serious look on my server’s face as he told me, “Oh, yeah, it’s really good.” And it was. The dark, thick chili had flecks of black pepper visible, and you could taste that pepper in each bite. It had few beans and, although mild, it had a lot of depth of flavor that chili only gets when you cook it slowly and let those tastes meld. It was topped with zesty chopped red onions and cheddar jack cheese.

I already have plans to try that chili again, ladled over some waffle fries or some of Beach Bums’ homemade potato chips. Those chips were fried until super crunchy, unlike most homemade versions, which are still soft with just crispy edges. I also enjoyed the sweet potato fries, which were straightforward and not coated with powdered sugar or brown sugar. I would have liked the steak fries better had they not been doused with salt.

The 6-ounce filet I paired with those fries had just the right touch of salt, along with some pepper and a little butter, I believe. The perfect seasonings combined with the tenderness of this steak made it easily the best thing I had there that wasn’t a burger.

I did try one item from the sea at this nautical-themed eatery: the Big Splash Mahi Sandwich. The blackened mahi-mahi was flaky, meaty and super moist, and the blackening spice was used sparingly to add just the right zip. But a hefty amount of pungent bleu cheese, which melted and formed a sauce of sorts, dripped out of the edges of the wheat bun, and I found myself scraping most of it off.

For dessert, two homemade specialties were the highlights. The key lime pie was super tart and its smooth texture separated it from the thawed-out norm. Texture was also the key to the success of the cheesecake, which, along with that key lime pie, is made by Tina Landis, who runs the restaurant with her husband, Mark. It was so smooth, light and airy it was hard to believe it was cheesecake. Topped with strawberries or chocolate, or both, it was heavenly.

My visits to Beach Bums may not have been heavenly, but they were fun. The service was impeccable, highlighted by the last thing my server said to me at the end of my second visit: “Thank you guys very much for coming in tonight.” It was refreshing to hear, and it did just as much as the sharks and other beach paraphernalia to get me out of my winter doldrums, … even if there weren’t any swimsuits.

Restaurant: Beach Bums Gourmet Burgers and More

Address: 620 W. Washington Center Road

Phone: 489-8534

Hours: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday

Cuisine: American

Handicapped accessible: Yes

Alcohol served: Full bar

Credit cards accepted: Yes

Child-friendly: Yes

Menu: Chicken wings ($8.49), potato skins ($6.49), chili ($2.99 cup; $3.99 bowl), BLT burger ($7.99), Hurricane burger ($8.49), turkey burger ($7.99), mahi sandwich ($8.99), key lime pie ($4.49), cheesecake ($4.49)

Rating breakdown: Food: * 1/2 (3 star maximum); atmosphere: 1/2 (1 maximum), service: * (1 maximum)

Note: Restaurants are categorized by price range: $ (less than $20 for three-course meal), $$ ($20-$29); $$$ ($30-$39), $$$$ ($40-$49), $$$$$ ($50 and up).

Ryan DuVall is a restaurant critic for The Journal Gazette. This review is based on two unannounced visits. The Journal Gazette pays for all meals. E-mail him at rduvall@jg.net, call at 461-8130, or go to the “Dining Out” topic of “The Board” at www.journalgazette.net. DuVall’s past reviews can also be found at the Web site, and you can hear Ryan from 5 to 6 p.m. every Thursday on 92.3 FM, The Fort.