Jimmy's Famous American Tavern
3325 E. Imperial Highway
Brea, CA 92823
There are a few restaurants that I feel a special kinship with. After doing this restaurant blog for close to eight years now, it's almost like we've grown up with some of these restaurants. One such restaurant I feel this companionship with is Jimmy's Famous American Tavern. We remember when JFAT only had one location in San Diego in 2010, and when they burst on the scene in OC three years later and added some much-needed life to the Dana Point Harbor dining scene.
It's great watching this mini-chain expand to other areas of Southern California. They now have five locations, and a little bird told us that there are more on the way, but they would not let the cat out of the bag about where the next few spots will be. Next month will mark the one-year anniversary for this Brea location, which is right near where I grew up in nearby Yorba Linda. This is definitely the type of restaurant that North OC desperately needs. A restaurant that is not a mega chain, one that serves good honest food, in a comfortable and relaxing atmosphere, while still providing a sophisticated environment.
The success of JFAT should not be a surprise to anyone, especially when you find out David Wilhelm is a Co-Founder here. He's an OC restaurant icon, who brought El Torito Grille, French 75, Sorrento Grille, Kachina, and others to the hungry masses of Orange County. Not one to rest on his past reputation alone, JFAT has continuously been praised by local media outlets for their food, intriguing beverage program, and their two-star rating by the Green Restaurant Association, which ranks them in the upper echelon of restaurants doing their part of implementing programs which are better for the environment.
With all of this good stuff going on at JFAT I jumped at the chance to eat here when we were recently invited to experience this Brea location for the first time. For this visit, I invited my buddy, Erven to accompany me, and try JFAT for his first time. This JFAT is located at the corner of Valencia and Imperial Highway, in the newly constructed Village at La Floresta. It is kind of difficult to find this restaurant, as they are kind of hidden in the corner of the shopping center. Just locate the Whole Foods supermarket, and walk to your left, and you'll run right into the entrance.
Once inside, if you've ever been to another JFAT location, you will definitely be reintroduced to the JFAT vibe, which is sleek and hip, without a hint of pretentiousness. The dining room is bathed in plenty of dark woods, muted lighting, their trademark American flags used as decor, and very comfy booths filled with people enjoying their meals and cocktails. The center of the restaurant is dominated by a lively and well-stocked bar, which allows for great views of the TVs, which were turned to hockey on this particular evening. Score. There's also a rather large patio, which I imagine gets plenty of use when the weather turns a little warmer. As for now, after a rather lengthy conversation catching up, both Erven and I made our selections off the menu, which features many enticing comfort food favorites. Let's see what we decided on.
Our first round of cocktails were pretty similar. Erven selected the Classic Mojito ($13) as his maiden beverage of the evening. This trendy drink is muddled to order with fresh mint, and also includes some refreshing lime juice, rum, and maybe a splash of soda water. I liked that this mojito had a touch of sweetness but was not overpowered by sugar, and you still knew you were consuming an adult beverage. I've been all about mules lately, and I like that restaurants are getting creative by branching out of the Moscow mule mold. This Gin Gin Mule ($13) included the same lime juice and mint that Erven had in his mojito, but it also included some ginger beer and Nolet's Gin. I liked the inclusion of gin, as it adds more of a bite than the usual vodka that goes in the Moscow version. A very refreshing drink.
Since we already had our drinks, some appetizers were definitely in order. We each picked one, and Erven's choice was the Buffalo Style Meatballs ($13). These meatballs came five to an order, and were drenched in a spicy wing sauce and served with a side of honey-garlic ranch dressing for dipping. We liked these but thought they were a tad overcooked. I had wished they were going to be a bit more tender, but the very good buffalo sauce and the ranch helped these out a bit. My pick was the Spicy Ahi Poke ($14). Poke is everywhere these days, and this version at JFAT was very fresh, and even though it included avocado, yuzu, serranos, scallions, papaya, and sesame, the cubed ahi was still the star here. The crispy wontons were a great vessel for this, and if I worked back in the kitchen here, I could see myself eating a ton of these wontons.
Erven was sucking down the drinks on this evening, probably so he could tolerate listening to my horrible stories. His second cocktail was this very photogenic Blackberry Bourbon Lemonade ($13). This combined Buffalo Trace Bourbon, Southern Comfort, Marion Blackberries, simple syrup, and a splash of lemonade. I really enjoyed the sip I had of this. It was sweet, but the bourbon hung around the background and evened this drink out. Very balanced, and this will be my go to drink on future visits to Jimmy's Famous American Tavern.
Even though we had entrees coming, we were talked into trying the Grilled Santa Fe Caesar Salad ($12) and a Bowl of New England Clam Chowder ($9). Manager Todd Cords really talked up this different take on a Caesar salad, and after my first bite, I realized he had every right to do so. It was delicious. The romaine is grilled, so it picks up the flavors of the grill and is then topped with corn, salsa fresca, avocado, and one of the better salad dressings I've had recently, a green chile caesar dressing. I'm usually not too enthused about having to cut up my own salad, but with this one, I did not mind. The chowder really grew on Erven as he ate it. It had plenty of potatoes and clams and was very creamy. It could have been a tad more peppery, but still a solid version of this classic comfort soup.
Entree time, and Erven and I decided we were going to split two entrees, the first of which was this French Dip ($19). This dip sandwich starts out with some thinly sliced, tender prime rib, and then is topped with swiss cheese, crispy onion strings, a creamy horseradish sauce, and of course au jus. I liked this sandwich, although I wished the horseradish had packed more of a punch. The ciabatta bread really was good here, as it did an admirable job soaking up the au jus and keeping the contents of the sandwich all together. This sandwich came with sea salt fries on the side, which were pretty solid.
Man, I really wanted to get a burger here, but I've been on too much of a burger kick lately, so I got the JFAT Blonde Ale Fish and Chips ($18) instead. It was a good choice. This large plate came with three good sized pieces of fried fish, which were crunchy on the outside, and flaky and buttery soft on the inside. I was a little shocked at how these lacked the usual greasiness that usually goes hand in hand with fish and chips. This plate was rounded out with a nicely done coleslaw and some salt and pepper potato chips. A very comforting meal.
Dessert was not something that we needed at this point, but we could not resist trying this Pumpkin and Pecan Streusel Cake ($7). Our server Zoey called this an underrated dessert because it kind of gets overshadowed by their larger, and more flashy sundaes. She nailed this description. I'm not really a big pumpkin fan, but it was very understated here, just lurking in the background, while the pecan and ice cream played a more prominent role. A very good end to our meal at Jimmy's Famous American Tavern.
I'm happy to report that this JFAT location was just as good as the one we have visited numerous times in Dana Point. Sometimes when a restaurant expands, there are some growing pains, but that does not seem to be the case with Jimmy's Famous American Tavern. Even though Brea is 33 miles north of Dana Point, they definitely nailed the same vibe for both of these restaurants. The food was also consistent in both spots as well, and we look forward to coming back here and exploring more of their menu when we are up this way, maybe visiting my parents.
As for this visit, we would like to thank everyone at JFAT for their warm and generous hospitality. Our server Zoey was excellent, and very knowledgeable about the menu here, and was spot on with coming up with suggestions to make our dining experience even better than it would have been. We would also like to thank Manager Todd Cords, who came over and checked on us regularly and answered all of our questions about this restaurant. You could sense how everyone that works here is very proud of this establishment and enjoys showing it off. Lastly, I would like to thank my dining companion on this evening, my friend of 30 years, and still going strong, Erven. I had a great time catching up with you, and we need to do this more often. Thanks, buddy.
If you would like to experience Jimmy's Famous American Tavern for yourself, find your nearest location and online menus at their website here: http://j-fat.com/