Unpretentious Jumpers Grille has small surprises

Pasadena restaurant leans to ribs and sides

Eats: Dining Reviews/Hot Stuff

October 28, 2004|By Karen Nitkin | Karen Nitkin,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Some restaurants demand a lot from their patrons. You have to get dressed up, you have to find the right food-wine pairings, you have to savor the complicated ingredients.

And then there are places like Jumpers Grille, which aren't demanding at all.

Patrons arrive in sweat shirts and jeans and station themselves in front of the two televisions in the dining room. A large one, sound off, is turned to sports, while a smaller one, volume low, shows news. Couples even sit side by side instead of across from each other so they can both watch the screens as they tuck into foam plates overflowing with barbecued ribs, cole slaw and potato salad.

The food at Jumpers is as basic as the ambiance, with a particular focus on barbecued ribs and chicken. Yet there are small surprises. Salads are larger and more interesting than one might expect, and both the seafood and vegetables are grilled with care.

The menu is rather small, but it's rounded out by a roster of more than a dozen sides, including the usual baked beans and mac and cheese, as well as less-usual sweet coconut rice, sausage stuffing and wild rice salad.

Of these, I had the stuffing, an amiable gray mass of flavorful mush, and the potato salad, a standard, mayonnaise-dependent version. Mac and cheese, also served as a kids' meal, was creamy and would have been good if it had been served warm instead of room temperature.

Several options are available only as a kids' meal, including anemic-looking burgers and chicken tenders that look like the ones I buy at the supermarket. With the meal, kids also get a small serving of applesauce, some crispy, salty fries, a drink and a wind-up toy they can take home.

The sprawling restaurant in a shopping center at Ritchie Highway and Jumpers Hole Road has three parts -- a dimly lit bar, a bustling take-out counter, and a sit-down dining room.

The dining room is well-lit and clean, and the booths are spaced a comfortable distance apart. Yet the restaurant doesn't seem quite ramped up for sit-down service. A large sign outside says Jumpers is hiring, and clearly more staff is needed. Our harried server told us she was also taking care of the bar, and she disappeared for long periods of time, even though the dining area was only half full.

The strangest thing about Jumpers is the restaurant's condiment impairment. Most barbecue joints place squeeze bottles with various types of sauce on the table. Not Jumpers. Condiments are added in the kitchen, and for the most part way too sparingly.

My delicious pit turkey sandwich, piled high with smoky, thin-sliced meat, came with only a tiny dollop of barbecue sauce, which was quickly soaked up by the bun. We were even given packets of ketchup for our fries, instead of a bottle.

Salads are (over)dressed in the kitchen, but still more packets of Ken's dressing arrive on the table.

Still, I liked the salads, especially one called Mixed Up Baby Greens, jazzed up with blue cheese, mandarin oranges and pine nuts and doused in a tart vinaigrette. Another salad was based on the color red. The red-leaf lettuce, roasted red peppers and sun-dried tomatoes were fine, but the radish didn't quite fit, and the red raspberry dressing was too sweet.

Naturally, I had higher expectations for the ribs, and I wasn't disappointed. They were unusually meaty and very tender, and were served -- hooray -- with a generous amount of the wonderful barbecue sauce.

Southwest shrimp, a generous serving, were medium sized, expertly grilled and nicely spiced, but the surprise treats here were the sides: grilled vegetables that were tender-crisp and not the least bit watery, and savory mashed red potatoes.

Desserts included the predictable brownie sundae and cheesecake. The sundae was marred by a less-than-fresh brownie, but it still qualified as the kind of easy-to-enjoy food that makes Jumpers such a no-stress destination.

Jumpers Grille

Where: 8125 Ritchie Highway, Pasadena

Call: 410-647-7722

Open: Lunch and dinner daily

Credit cards: MasterCard, Visa

Prices: Soups, sides and salads, $1.05-$4.50, entrees $4.75-$18.95

Food: **1/2

Service: **1/2

Atmosphere: **1/2

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