By MICHAEL AUSHENKER | Contributing Writer
Nearly a decade ago, restaurateur David Wilhelm was at a crossroads. One of his ventures, French75, with locations in Laguna Beach and at Century City’s Westfield Mall, had shuttered.
Wilhelm had a new concept.
“I had watched the emergence of the gastropub craze for several years around the country but they all had a bit of a ‘Euro’ slant to them,” Wilhelm said.
Given his Midwestern roots, Wilhelm decided Jimmy’s Famous American Tavern would become his “unabashed celebration of all of the great regional comfort foods [nationwide].”
Colloquially known as JFAT, the original (and still operating) Jimmy’s Famous American Tavern sprang from San Diego’s Point Loma in 2010. Other versions soon followed in Orange County’s Dana Point and Brea southeast of downtown.
This past February, Wilhelm opened his fifth JFAT on a plum spot on Ocean Avenue.
“The idea was to make JFAT a favorite gathering place for Santa Monica locals and travelers that offers whatever type of dining, bar and social experience you’re in the mood for,” Wilhelm said.
Our meal began with some cocktails. Raspberry Rain delivers everything you’d want in a berry-themed vodka martini—it’s refreshing and sugary. Blackberry Bourbon Lemonade retained its inherent sweetness but had a nice finish. The Sofia’s Skinny Margarita proved nice and minty with its mix of Partida Blanco tequila, agave nectar, muddled citrus, cucumber and mint. The latter drink is named after the matriarch of the Partida tequila brand, who worked with Wilhelm on developing Jimmy’s skinny margarita.
The starters wouldn’t stop. First arrived Warm Housemade Salt & Pepper Potato Chips. Deceptively simple, the blue-cheese-sauce-and-scallions-covered chips are a big crowd-pleaser at Jimmy’s. Indeed, they’re effective.
Our Santa Fe Honey-Poblano Pesto, sweet and piquant with a veritable garden of vegetables atop it, including diced avocado, corn and tomato, comes drizzled with honey-chile pesto, with candied pecans sweetening things up. Other flatbreads include Pepperoni and Sausage and, yes, the “Euro”-sounding Pear, Black Fig Jam, Blue Cheese & Fontina variety (with fontina and prosciutto, it’s a veritable charcuterie board). You can also order a good-sized Baja Style Shrimp Cocktail with guacamole inside and tortilla chips.
We also enjoyed a bowlful of “BBQ Buffalo Style” Meatballs, coated in a spicy wing sauce and accompanied by the housemade honey-garlic ranch sauce.
There are many salad options here but we went straight for Wine Country Salad, an intriguing mix of grilled chicken, cranberries, blue cheese, apple, bacon and large croutons, simply because this particular menu item was unique to the Santa Monica location.
One thing is certain: Any customer ordering a meal or even an appetizer at JFAT will not emerge from the place hungry. Portions are generous here. One definitely gets much bang for their buck, and so as our appetizers proved formidable, we had to pace ourselves in order to move onto an excellent trio of main courses.
Out of the three major poultry dishes offered, Buttermilk Fried Chicken, is the big seller here. We opted to explore one of two varieties of roasted chicken, and the Herb Roasted Chicken, topped with fried onion string, did not let us down; all moist meat and crispy skin. Sweet garlic jus and a small mound of perfectly seasoned garlic mashed potatoes and green beans rounded this plate out.
There are many gourmet burgers to be had, from the signature Jimmy Burger to the Spicy California Burger, packed with green chiles and pickled jalapeños. These patties include vegetarian and ahi tuna varieties.
As if our Cowboy Burger—a sturdily structured gourmet cheeseburger topped with cheddar, Applewood bacon, onion fritters and barbecue sauce, and accompanied by savory Parmesan fries with truffle oil and a pickle—wasn’t an action-packed meal in itself, we also enjoyed our Bourbon-Chipotle BBQ Baby Back Ribs, a foot-long slab of porcine perfection lathered in barbecue sauce, flanked with scrumptious pommes au gratin with cheddar and Jalapeño accents, and sides of baked beans, honey-mustard slaw and corn bread.
Despite the high marks across the board, the rock star menu item here turned out to be one of our earliest appetizers: Forest Mushroom & Truffle Mac & Cheese. It’s the kind of killer macaroni and cheese dish you could (hypothetically, not calorically) eat every day of the week; a sublime hot pasta bowl with roasted mushrooms and truffle oil topped six different cheeses melted all over it in a handsomely presented mess: American cheddar, white cheddar, American cheese, Monterey Jack, Parmesan and Gruyere. This appetizer definitely feeds a small army, and if you’re dining solo, it can pass for a meal in itself.
Such is the take-away from Jimmy’s: Yes, this is American comfort food, straight up, yet it’s cuisine is well executed and within these reliable offerings, you will discover some nice surprises.
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