Howitzer-style dining

After dining at the Claim Jumper, my dining partner, Michael, exclaimed: “It’s like having a culinary encounter with a howitzer.”

The Reno restaurant, the newest in the 23-year-old chain, provides diners with generous portions, friendly service and excellent value.

The décor is nice, although it feels too cookie-cutter themed. Real wooden logs, along with the stuffed deer and moose heads, antler chandeliers, gas fireplaces and beamed ceilings give the restaurant a cabin-feel.

On a slow night, the wait is 20 minutes or so. When our flashing pager—we were given this device and the code name “Rainbow Falls” upon entry—went off, we were seated by a friendly, all-smiles hostess who handed us the nearly two-foot tall menus. The size of the menu foreshadows the meal to come.

Our appetizers, cheese potato cakes ($5.95) are a CJ favorite, and it’s clear why: Who in this country doesn’t love a fried dish consisting of three kinds of cheese melted into mashed potatoes seasoned with dill, cilantro and onion? Our other appetizer, Pacific calamari ($7.95), tasted great for the first few bites, but then we realized the calamari had no flavor; rather, the batter was light and airy, which is perfect if one simply wants a heaping mound of fried batter sticks.

The menu boasts enough items to please a wide variety of tastes, from wood-fired pizzas ($7.95 to 9.95) to Red Ale spare ribs ($19.95 as whole rack meal; $17.95 as a spare rib supper) to fresh pot pies ($9.95) to a meatloaf supper ($12.50).

I chose the 26-ounce porterhouse steak ($26.95), and Michael had fresh Pacific swordfish ($21.95). My medium-rare steak was so divine it had my eyes rolling back in my head. Michael’s swordfish fillet was hearty. Both lacked excessive seasoning, which allowed the meat to stand on its own.

My sides included a delightful beefsteak salad: a gorgeous tomato sliced with a red onion and fresh mozzarella. My vegetables were medium-rare (cooked—but crunchy), the way I love vegetables.

Michael’s Caesar salad was a disappointment: The lettuce was drenched in over-mayonnaised dressing with no hint of anchovies. His creamed spinach side was a huge flop, too, overwhelming only in its blandness.

For dessert we had the Eureka sampler ($15.95), which included an assortment of six desserts, the best of which was the bread pudding with its subtle, homemade spiciness.

The non-sampler-sized desserts are almost freakish in size. The “I Declair” ($7.95) has vanilla bean ice cream and hot fudge and looks like a small cake for a family-sized birthday party. The chocolate motherlode cake ($7.95) has six layers and is a foot long. An entire cake is available ($47.50), measuring 15 inches in height and a foot in diameter. You have to see these surreal desserts to believe them.

Everyone who walked out, ourselves included, carried out a box or two of Styrofoam containers (we carried out four in a shopping bag). The food the two of us shared could have easily fed four adults. But at $50 per head, if the food is not fabulous, there’d better be lots of it.

I strongly recommend that everyone experience CJ once. But here are some suggestions: Arrive early, because you will be waiting for a table; arrive hungry, because you may never think of Thanksgiving dinner the same way after eating here; leave your epicurean sensibilities at home, because you’re not going to discover any new tastes in this dinner lodge; and plan on enjoying your leftovers.