Brown Chicken Brown Cow has a lot going for it.
First, it's located in the best downtown in the South Bay -- Campbell. (Sorry, Palo Alto, too pretentious. Sorry, Los Gatos, too pricey. Sorry, San Jose, trying too hard.)
Second, there's that goofy name.
Third, there's the food -- and don't read anything into the fact that I put it third. Brown Chicken Brown Cow's menu is all about upscale burgers and chicken sandwiches with fresh, regionally sourced ingredients, and the sides that love them.
The BCBC Burger ($7) is a thick, hand-formed patty on a toasted but still soft and buttery bun. It comes with fresh tomato slices (red and juicy even in February) and several leaves of butter lettuce (no iceberg here). It's cooked on the flat top, so it develops a really nice crust on the outside. The smoky flavor of the crust permeated every bite of the burger. Mine came out medium, with just a little bit of pink in the middle but still very juicy. I added a slice of Swiss cheese ($1) that melted perfectly and bacon ($2) that came out extra crisp but didn't crumble when I bit into it.
I also tried the John Wayne Burger ($10), which included a sweet barbecue sauce, fried onion strings, bacon and cheddar cheese as well as lettuce, tomato, mayo and raw onion. My advice is to hold the raw onion; the strings themselves bring plenty of sharp flavor to the burger.
Both of the burgers were delicious. Brown Chicken Brown Cow uses grass-fed beef from Humboldt County, and the beef was always the star of the burger. It was never overwhelmed by any of its accompaniments.
The restaurant takes a different route with the Pesto Chicken Sandwich ($10), served on a chewy roll. The walnut pesto is definitely the star. It had strong, lingering flavors of basil and garlic that were nicely cut with some creaminess from provolone cheese and mayo. The entire package took a mild chicken breast up to 11.
The sides were every bit as good as the burgers and sandwiches. My hands-down favorite was the fried onion strings, which Brown Chicken Brown Cow calls Onion Haystacks ($3.95). They were perfectly fried every time I ordered them, crispy but with no hint of grease. They would go great with a pitcher of beer.
Brown Chicken Brown Cow has a page-long wine list and full bar, including some interesting (and strong!) signature cocktails. I tried the Buckaroo ($9), which was a Venezuelan rum mixed with a whisper of root beer. I expected something a little more complex for that price. There are also half dozen or so microbrews on tap, most of which are from the Bay Area or Northern California.
This place is literally a hidden gem in a back alley of downtown Campbell. You have to walk down a courtyard behind a Campbell Avenue hair salon to find it (hint: across from another hair salon). It's a bit of a hunt, but the food and drinks are a definite treasure at the end.
Contact Jason Bennert at firstname.lastname@example.org.
397 E. Campbell Ave., Campbell
Hours: 11 a.m.-11 p.m. daily -- it's a good late-night choice.
Types of food: Burgers, sandwiches and salads.
Average meal price: $9-$10 burgers; fries and sides extra.
Good choices: John Wayne Burger, Pesto Chicken Sandwich, Onion Haystacks.
Vegetarian options: Plenty
Attitude: It's a small place, so they can get overwhelmed when busy.
Amenities: Both indoor and outdoor seating
Credit cards: All major ones
Parking: Street parking and multiple free city lots.
Restaurant reviews are
The Mercury News pays for all meals.