TUSCALOOSA, Ala. – Entering Ajian – AJ McCarron’s new fast-casual sushi restaurant – you’re not overwhelmed by memorabilia.
The décor is modern, featuring a framed McCarron No. 10 Alabama jersey – which he wore while leading the Crimson Tide to back-to-back national championships in 2011 and 2012 – and a framed McCarron No. 5 Cincinnati Bengals jersey, which is where he’s spent the last three seasons backing up Andy Dalton.
There are no references to “Roll Tide.” Only “Maki Tide,” with maki being the Japanese word for sushi.
That’s by design. While Ajian features the name of arguably the best quarterback in Alabama history, co-owner and general manager Pete Zimmer doesn’t want the place to solely be associated with football and sports.
“Our goal is to open multiple stores,” Zimmer told SEC Country. “We certainly want to pay homage to McCarron, but at the same time, if I were to open one of these in Auburn, it couldn’t be Alabama-centric.”
If Zimmer and McCarron decided to open a location on the Plains, Katherine Webb McCarron – former Miss Alabama USA (2012), Auburn graduate and McCarron’s wife – would be the face of that store.
While McCarron didn’t attend the opening Tuesday night, he is expected to be in Tuscaloosa for the grand opening the week of Oct. 9 during the Bengals’ bye weekend. Zimmer expects there will be a radio station that will do a live broadcast for the event. They’ll likely raffle off autographed photos. McCarron will take photos and sign autographs.
The two best things about Ajian are its location and the flexible menu.
Ajian is situated conveniently between The Strip and downtown Tuscaloosa. Bryant-Denny Stadium is a mile away. It’s also right across the street from Innisfree, which is one of the more popular bars in Tuscaloosa.
There are commonly suggested sushi rolls such as the California Roll and the Shrimp Tempura.
What sets Ajian apart is the option to create your own sushi roll, allowing you to customize your roll and get exactly what you want every time.
Similar to Chipotle or Subway, customers pick each individual ingredient while their meal is prepared in front of them.
For those who are not big on the fresh (raw) fish, Ajian offers grilled chicken and grilled steak.
You may create your own sushi rolls from a choice of 12 proteins, eight vegetables, eight toppings and seven sauces. There are also vegan options.
Point being, whether you’re a sushi lover or a novice, there is something for everyone at Ajian.
“We want to offer a healthy, fresh option for those who don’t always want fast food,” Zimmer said.
I ordered two rolls to get a feel for the place. I started with the Shrimp Tempura, which features “your choice of rice, seaweed wrap, tempura shrimp, avocado, asparagus, with spicy mayonnaise and tempura crunch.”
And because I was feeling a little adventurous, my second roll had raw tuna, avocado, spicy mayo, sweet soy and fresh strawberries.
I was not sure what to expect. I don’t think fast food or even fast casual when I want sushi.
But I was pleasantly surprised. The food was delicious and fresh.
All the rolls are $9 or less, which is good for college students or anyone on a budget.
There is no beer or wine, but Tuscaloosa has plenty of bars for you to drink responsibly.
The only knock against Ajian is it serves Pepsi products, which is cool if you’re into that sort of thing.
Seriously, we’re not sure if Ajian will become a staple in the Tuscaloosa community, but if you’re looking for something healthier than a burger and don’t want to break the bank, Ajian is the place for you.
Location: 1914 University Blvd., Tuscaloosa, Ala.
Hours: Sundays-Wednesdays, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Thursdays-Saturdays, 11 a.m. to 1 or 2 a.m.