Jammy Buggars just may be the worst restaurant name in the history of dining. It is so bad, in fact, that it causes me physical discomfort just to utter it. So, from here on out I will refer to it only as JB's.
The good news is that behind the distasteful moniker lies a very likable restaurant. Housed in the former Niko's, Bar 2, Route 6, and Niko's (the sequel) space, JB's is sticking its metaphorical foot in the revolving door of ownership. Open since May, the Lakewood pub already has attracted a robust and loyal following in a very competitive market.
Wisely, owner Jim Sprenger zeroed in on an oft-overlooked segment of the constituency. Whereas most of his competitors aim high or low — dispensing ho-hum pub grub or upmarket gastro fare — Sprenger steers straight for the middle ground. By offering good-quality food at rational prices in a comfortable setting, JB's is filling the niche often dominated by middling national chains.
At $16, the braised short ribs entrée is the most expensive dish on the menu. Like most of the offerings, it is tasty but not terribly creative. The portion is almost absurdly large, consisting of two racks of flanken-cut ribs and at least a pound (no kidding) of mashed potatoes. While tender and possessing a pro-style sear, the meat was ill-trimmed, with a disquieting amount of fat and gristle. As for the spuds, the sodium content was nearing crisis level.
That dish perfectly encapsulates the good and the bad of eating at JB's. This is not navel-gazing haute cuisine, but rather family-friendly comfort food with broad appeal. The less we scrutinize the food, the happier we will be. What we give up in return for value is finesse — a deal that many are happy to strike, at least upon occasion.
Consider the "loaded fries," a platter of crunchy spuds showered with bacon, cheddar, sour cream, and chives. It's essentially potato skins that you eat with your fingers. Pair that with a cold IPA from the better-than-average beer list and you've got the ultimate game-day meal. Fried mozzarella might sound stale as week-old bread, but JB's version is fresh and lively. Small orbs of airy Buffalo mozz are lightly breaded, fried, and drizzled with pesto. The bite-sized balls are paired with a warm marinara sauce that's rich and complex enough to pass as soup.
Sloppy technique botched what could have been a stellar starter. Billed as bruschetta, the dish featured planks of sliced bread piled high with sautéed mushrooms, soft brie cheese, pert greens, and a drizzle of garlic sauce. Problem was that the kitchen forgot to toast the bread, leaving it pale, cool, and floppy.
The balance of the dishes we sampled over the course of two visits tended to follow the good-news, bad-news pattern. An absolutely wonderful burger — a half-pounder made with 100 percent Ohio grass-fed beef — was cooked perfectly and topped with Swiss, sautéed onions, and mushrooms. Its price: $11.50, which included JB's great fries. Too bad that boffo burger was trailed by a poor Po' Boy. Sprinkled with little more than a seasoning blend, the catfish had zero crunch. The fish also tasted muddy, as catfish often does.
On the other hand, the chicken paprikash is as good as one could hope for outside an Old World home. Tender chunks of boneless chicken awash in a crimson-colored sauce are ladled atop a big bed of housemade spaetzle. A dollop of sour cream and a ring of crisp-cooked broccoli garnish the plate.
As for that beer list, the bar stocks two dozen brews in bottles and another 20 or so on tap. The focus is on American craft brews, although Bud, Miller, and Coors Light are not excluded.
Sprenger, the owner, likes to describe JB's as the kind of restaurant "we've always wished was in our neighborhood." I think he's right. There are many better restaurants out there, but that doesn't mean you can or care to eat at them on a weekly basis. Unlike Applebee's, JB's really is "eatin' good in the neighborhood."
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