Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Blame it on the Guy in the Laundry Room

It was a rainy morning, but wanting to do something productive, we set forth to the park’s laundry facility for a morning of clean clothes and bonding with our fellow RV’ers. (Upon reflection, sleeping in would have also been a productive use of our time.)

As we sat watching the washing machines drum spin, we began talking with a gentleman and his wife from Rehoboth, DE, and soon, as many such conversations do, talk turned to local restaurants.

“Do you like chicken pot pie?” he asked. “If you do, you have to go to the Claim Jumper.” He then proceeded to illustrate the size of said
pot pie with his hands while describing that it was full of chicken and vegetables in really good gravy. I could see Chuck’s eyes widen in anticipation.

Now I knew that Claim Jumper restaurants are part of a national chain “headquartered in Irvine, California…with 45 locations in Arizona, California, Illinois, Colorado, Nevada, Washington, Wisconsin, Oregon and Tennessee. Founder Craig Nickoloff opened the first Claim Jumper Restaurant in Los Alamitos, California in 1977. Until 2005, CWN Management, Inc., which operates the Claim Jumper chain, had been privately owned by the Nickoloff family. Leonard Green & Partners purchased a majority stake in the company in 2005…(but) filed for bankruptcy on September 10, 2010. On October 28, 2010,
the chain was auctioned off with Landry's Restaurants being the winning bidder” (

And we don’t do chains. But great chicken pot pie? We may need to make an exception.

“The Irvine, California-based chain arrived here (Tucson) in January, and folks have been lining up at the El Con Mall restaurant ever since. The chain is known for its ski lodge-style décor--lacquered wood, huge beams bolted together, river rock and a
chandelier made out of antlers all play a significant role in the look. The chain is also known for its obscenely huge portion sizes. Watch the folks leaving a Claim Jumper, and the majority of them will be carrying sacks and sacks of food home. At a time when the country's obesity rate is skyrocketing, Claim Jumper is not helping matters” (Jimmy Boegle at

While the restaurant was huge with high ceilings and an enormous river rock fire place, its configuration with high walled booths and dividers minimized the sense of vastness.

The kitchen is semi-open,

but the wall to our booth prevented me from observing most of the food prep.

And not only are the restaurant and portion sizes huge, so is the menu. So it was hard to make a decision. Hard for me, that is. Our fellow RV’er had also recommended the calamari (calamari steak strips, lightly breaded and fried and served with cocktail sauce and spicy peanut Thai slaw). Then again, there were the Southwest Eggrolls with fresh chicken, cilantro, black beans, pasilla and bell peppers. Or the Three Cheese Potatocakes with cheddar, jack and aged Parmesan cheese, creamy mashed potatoes, onions, dill, and cilantro. Then again, maybe I should order the Chinese Chicken Salad with crunchy noodles, almonds, sesame seeds, green onions, carrots, and cilantro tossed with sweet and spicy peanut dressing. On second thought, how about the Black Tie Chicken Pasta with blackened chicken, bow tie pasta, spinach tortellini, and oven roasted tomatoes tossed in creamy Alfredo.

“No” to all of these. Instead, I chose the Mini Tri-Tip Dips—three small “sliders” with sliced tri-tip roasted in French onion broth and garnished with smoked gouda, roasted pasilla peppers, and caramelized onions on mini brioche buns.
These were good—not great, but good. First, I thought that the tri-tip had been sliced a bit too thickly, so some slices had a definite chewy texture. And the buns were a bit too soft for meat dipped in its own juices. But the onion soup-based jus was delicious.

But it was my choice of side that shone. Instead of the fries or fruit, I selected the Thai slaw made with Chinese and red cabbages, dry Chinese noodles, peanuts, and cilantro.
The dressing was so good that I ran home to see if I could find a similar recipe on line. (I did find one that, with some tweaking, might do.) It represented so much of what I enjoy about Asian food. It was salty (soy), nutty (sesame), tart (vinegar), and spicy (chile paste).

But the reason for our visit was Chuck’s chicken pot pie.
How did it measure up? Highly. Very highly. For one thing—and this is most unusual for restaurant chicken pot pie—it had crust not just on the top but on the sides and bottom as well. And these crusts didn’t get soggy from the gravy. And it was full of white meat chicken, mushrooms (which made their way across the table to my plate), peas, carrots, and potatoes all in a slightly herbal gravy.
While I would give a slight edge to the pot pie at Studio Diner in San Diego, Chuck was in heaven.

His entrée was to have come with a side of fruit but why eat fruit when you can substitute smashed potatoes. Yes, spuds in the pot pie and spuds on the side.

Neither of us had room for Claim Jumper’s signature dessert—the Chocolate Motherlode Cake.

This is six layers of chocolate cake and chocolate fudge icing topped with walnuts and was featured on the Food Network as one of America’s “Top 5 Most Decadent Desserts.” According to Men’s Health Magazine, its six layers of chocolate carry as many calories as a dozen Hershey's Milk Chocolate Bars.

Now I can’t in good conscience give a chain franchise restaurant 5.0 Addies, but feel comfortable awarding it 4.0.

To review the role of Adler, Kitty Humbug, and the Addie rating system, read the November 14, 2011 blog.

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