By Michelle Railey
1. The basics: you’ll find it in the Golden Nugget on Fremont Street. It’s open 24 hours and breakfast is served all day. Like the Trevi at the Forum Shops (Caesar’s Palace), Claim Jumper is a member of the Landry’s chain of restaurants.
2. They have fountain Diet Coke. Plus, free refills. This is not a trivial thing. The Strip has been taken over, essentially, by PepsiCo, which means your Las Vegas trip is going to be somewhat compromised by the super-expensive Diet Coke drought on the Strip. Luckily for you, while the crowds and the Fremont Street Experience are sort of, erm, crazy and claustrophobic and not-the-Strip-ish, while you’re there gawking at the old-fashioned-y charm of the neon lights and the distinctly Western Sizzlin’ “charm” of Binion’s, you can also drop in to the Claim Jumper, grab a table, eat something, and drink all the Diet Freaking Coke you can hold.
3. After you order your food, your friendly Claim Jumper server is going to bring a large boule of bread to the table. Firstly, this is garlic bread and it is warm, soft, and delicious. Enjoy it. Secondly, yes, it is roughly the same size as the individual serving of biscuit served at Hash House a Go-Go, but do not reach for it and pull it towards yourself like it is your very own. It’s not. The beautiful garlic bread boule is for the entire table. Not just for you. (Just saving you some embarrassment here.)
4. (See middle image, column 2) The Claim Jumper, as has been mentioned, serves breakfast 24 hours a day. One of your options is “The Scrambler,” ($15.99): “a bed of hash browns, smothered with ham and scrambled eggs, topped with Cheddar and Jack cheese, served with country gravy and toast.” One of my favorite frequent dining companions ordered this: his family hails from Kentucky and he has always sworn that gravy is a beverage, not a condiment. His verdict on the country gravy was that it was good (this is high praise in frequent-dining-companion-speak). His report on The Scrambler was that the whole thing was worth ordering: a hearty portion, velvety scrambled eggs, salty ham, and crispy hash browns. Frequent Dining Companion had zero complaints.
5. The menu, aside from breakfast favorites, includes light fare like wraps and salads and even some Asian-inspired fare, plus (on the heavier side) burgers, pasta, and seafood. One of our group gave the Chicken Club Wrap a thumbs up (grilled chicken in a wrap, nothing life-changing, $12.99, served with choice of side). Another amongst our happy band enjoyed some of the pasta (can’t remember which: verdict was similar— good, really good, made him happy, but not superlatively outstanding). And, for what it’s worth, there are vegetarian and gluten-free options on the menu, too. You should still, maybe, ask to get a side of the gravy. Because gravy.
6. (Bottom image, column 2) Chicken fried steak. “Certified Angus Beef seasoned, breaded, then lightly crisped and topped with country gravy. Served with mashed potatoes.” ($17.99) I was trying to think if I had ever actually eaten a bad chicken fried steak in my life. I haven’t. But truly good ones don’t happen every time. Claim Jumper’s is a truly good one. The worst thing I can say about it is that the breading doesn’t adhere to the steak, so you’re constantly having to do the fork tricks where you stab some breading, reapply it to the meat, and then eat it. Truthfully, though, I’ve never eaten a country fried steak that did not have this problem (although Alton Brown says its possible). Namby-pamby, highly fit, so-called “nutritionists” will say that a reasonable dinner portion of meat should be roughly the size of a deck of cards or a fist. Claim Jumper chicken fried steak appears as two and a half or maybe three decks of cards (the fist measurement will depend on the fist, of course; it’s, like, ten baby fists): my five-feet-two-and-a-half-inches tall, very hungry person ate the whole thing plus half the potatoes. And some of that garlic bread. And slept well at night. There is no such thing as bad chicken fried steak. This one was worth the $17.99: and, frankly, for me to say that is really something because I’m notoriously cheap. It was hearty; it was thick and substantial; the breading was just right, peppered in the right way and crisp. The potatoes were good; the gravy was good. There was nothing avant-grade here; no religious experiences through food (it’s a chain, people), but honestly, I can’t think of a better chicken fried steak I’ve ever eaten. And I’ve eaten some chicken fried steaks in my life, in full disclosure.
7. The service is good. (The Claim Jumper seems to inspire adjectives in the “good” range. This is more, ahem, good than bad but it does tell you that off-the-charts and Claim Jumper are not, maybe, the same thing.) Our party had five people in it and none of us starved to death, waited too long, went without refills or napkins, or felt slighted. We all received our food at the same time. The server didn’t seem to mind separating our checks out, which was a definite bonus.
8. If you’re visiting Las Vegas on a Sunday, you can have a Breakfast Brunch at Claim Jumper for only $19.99. Sadly, though, mimosas and Bloody Marys are an additional $4.00 each. (Which makes Sunday Claim Jumper one of the worst deals in Vegas, frankly.)
9. The decor: on the Claim Jumper’s website it is described as an “atmosphere that makes you feel right at home.” Well, there’s no laundry to be folded or random shoes on the stairs, so I don’t know about that. But, for myself, I didn’t visit Las Vegas and/or Claim Jumper to feel like I was at home. (I would have visited home for that.) Claim Jumper is a chain: and there is nothing in its decorative scheme to offend anyone. Now, frequently with chains, there is also nothing to impress anyone. Claim Jumper at the Golden Nugget is a little different in that respect. From the antler chandelier in the entry to the antique mining equipment on the walls, all the way through the really, unexpectedly good “art” throughout the restaurant (1840s-1860s photographs, reimagined and coaxed into desert pastel modern art pieces), Claim Jumper doesn’t revolutionize restaurant design. But as a modern take on “The West,” it works really, really well. Formal enough not to be a Qdoba; casual enough that you don’t feel bad for wearing flip flops. This is a chain restaurant that does not feel like a chain. (And seriously, the graphic designer who made their old-photograph-mash-up art is a genius. It really adds a lot to the theme, the restaurant, the Nevada experience.)
10. For what it’s worth, Claim Jumper receives a 4 out of 5 on Trip Advisor, 3.5 out of 5 stars on Yelp and 4.6 stars out of 5 on Facebook