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Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Fueling the Food Frenzy

Claim Jumper’s hearty spoils

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The fact that restaurant serving sizes have grown dramatically in the last few decades is no secret; it’s as plain to see as the nation’s expanding waistline. Yet despite the steady chastisement from doctors, dietitians and documentarians, the American public doesn’t seem quite ready to relinquish its grasp on the momentously overladen dining plate. Can’t eat another bite without needing a coronary bypass? Take it to go in a serviceable Styrofoam container.

If Americans aren’t addicted to excess, how else can we explain the continuing popularity of restaurants like the Cheesecake Factory, never without a gaggle of hungry patrons fretfully pacing its entryway? The pursuit of new and ingenious means of fueling the public’s frenzied appetite seems to be at the heart of the newly opened Claim Jumper in Brookfield—the first of its kind in Wisconsin. The West Coast chain’s solid reputation as a major contender in comfort food/casual dining precedes it. The size of its steaks and potatoes is the stuff of legend; odes have been penned to its prodigious pies and cakes. I ventured there on a recent Tuesday night with the noble intent of separating fact from fiction, and came away sheepishly clutching a doggie bag.

Nutritional benefits notwithstanding, the advantages of the vegetarian or seafood diet manifest themselves here in slightly more manageable portions. In spite of the fact that my order of macadamia-nut-crusted halibut ($18.95) was enough for both dinner and lunch the next day, it didn’t leave me with the sense of lethargy that results from many restaurant outings. The chunky filet with its thin coating of crumbs was slightly dry, but the flavorful coconut sauce and papaya relish made up for it. The meal would have been relatively light were it not for the almost gelatinous quality of the basmati rice that accompanied it.

The avocado rolls ($10.25) were similarly light and would make for a perfectly good main course, as would most of the appetizers. The same could not be said for the celebrated cheesy potato cakes appetizer ($7.95). These were heavy and oily, though tasty in an artery-clogging sort of way, and accompanied by a large biscuit whose best feature was the honey butter served on the side.

The swaggering nature of the restaurant’s name is apt, considering the breadth of ethnic cuisine it plunders in the name of casual family dining. Its main identity however is as a purveyor of American cuisine, as reflected in the extensive selection of steaks, ribs, burgers, rotisseries and pot roasts, and also in the robust decor. The dining hall features beefy walls of Douglas fir logs and rough-hewn stone, though the delicate Tiffany lamps make for a startling contrast to the chandelier made of antlers. Servers swarm the table in droves, sporting shiny sheriff’s badges and offering platters of dessert.

Despite the fact that you’ll have already eyed the desserts in the reception area, where the shimmering bakery case is strategically sited, you may feel your courage— and your digestive system—failing as chipper staff members arrive at your table to ply you with thick wedges of chocolate cake. Never fear, as most of the desserts come in less side-splitting portions called “small bites” ($2.95- $8.95). The creme brulee, which comes in three different flavors, is a good choice. It’s not too heavy and offers a pleasant consistency.

However, even if you pass on dessert, one thing’s certain: By the time you stumble back into the waning evening light, with your spoils clutched to your chest, you’ll feel you got your money’s and about two days’ worth of food.

Claim Jumper is located at 15 S. Moorland Road, next to Brookfield Square.

Photo by Kate Engbring