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O.C. Eats

Beyond Pub Grub

Italian, Asian, Mediterranian, Louisianian and standard American dishes dot the menu at JT Schmid's...and the beer's distinctive.

April 26, 2001|TOM VASICH | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

With the fading of the great brew-pub boom of the '90s, these pale-ale pavilions have found the need to offer something besides handcrafted beers.

Improving the food quality is a good start. Food was the weak feature at many of the brew pubs that once dotted coastal Orange County.

I know; I tried them all. After slogging through all the lifeless pub food and drab pastas, I found I could buy a six-pack of Red Hook, a Double-Double with fries and have a better (and cheaper) meal at home--and many others obviously came to the same conclusion. That's why so many of these places went under.

What remains are some pretty decent mainstream restaurants, such as Steelhead Brewing Co. in Irvine and Gordon Biersch in Orange, where the food is as varied and interesting as the beer selection. JT Schmid's Restaurant & Brewery, tucked between the Arrowhead Pond and Edison Field, is certainly trying the same sort of thing.

Its menu tries to be all things to all people. Accompanying the standard pub-food appetizers--the burgers, pastas and personal-sized pizzas that virtually define brew-pub dining--are other dishes inspired by Mediterranean, Italian, Asian and Louisianian cooking. The menu is a culinary melting pot of sorts.

Like many other brew-pub restaurants, JT Schmid's is a large, bustling place with a high ceiling; dark wood furniture; mammoth, exposed brewing tanks; and TV monitors tuned to ESPN. With its choice location, JT Schmid's is an obvious pregame favorite for Mighty Duck and Angel patrons. It has a large appetizer menu perfectly suited for dine-and-dash fans.

Although the appetizers feature such standards as spicy chicken wings cooked in a barbecue-flavored hot sauce; deep-fried calamari; beer-battered popcorn shrimp; and a massive blast of melted cheese, black beans, salsa, guacamole and sour cream-topped nachos, the best appetizers are those with the Asian touch.

Although not very authentic--a slightly blackened ahi sashimi served on Asian slaw?--these appetizers are well-made, with fresh ingredients. One light choice, the Shanghai lettuce wrap, offers a nice blend of ground turkey and vegetables with crisp iceberg lettuce. More filling is the ahi wrap, which is in a forest-green spinach tortilla filled with cilantro-flavored tuna and sticky rice. The accompanying wasabi sour cream adds a good pop. Best of the lot are the salmon hand rolls with rice and sour cucumbers stuffed into thin rice paper, and the scallion-laced pot stickers with a sweet mandarin orange sauce on the side.

There's even an attempt at hummus. This version is colored orange with pureed red bell peppers blended into the mix and is marked by a strong garlic flavor that overwhelms the garbanzo beans.

Devotees of Cajun food will be taken aback by JT Schmid's rendition of jambalaya. The standard shrimp, andouille and chicken are served on a pile of white rice with a spicy red sauce. It doesn't look or taste like any jambalaya I've ever come across, and stranger yet, it's even available on a pizza crust instead of rice. The gumbo is much more traditional, but you'd be better off going to a real Cajun restaurant for it.

Don't expect items with "traditional" in their title to live up to their names. The "traditional" Cobb salad, comes with untraditional balsamic vinaigrette dressing served on the side.

The attempts at Italian food are much better. The penne arrabbiata is covered with a marinara and portabello mushrooms--not traditional, but at least it tastes good. And a delicate Marsala sauce covers a grilled chicken breast served atop linguine. Even the lobster-packed ravioli offers a savory garlic sauce with Roma tomatoes and artichoke hearts.

Like so much else on the menu, the seafood entrees are hit or miss. The Caribbean salmon features an odd combination of Jamaican spices, bell peppers and pineapple. The macadamia nut-crusted halibut, on the other hand, is exceptional, with no odd sauces or ingredients. A light, nutty crust covers a huge cut of halibut and is served on a mound of garlic mashed potatoes. That's all.

*

When presented with a menu that's literally all over the map, I tend to go with the basics, and with JT Schmid's, these items are pure Americana. The chili may be soupy, but it's a robust, hearty mix of ground beef, green peppers, onions and chopped tomatoes. It didn't even need the proffered jolt of Tabasco--a good sign.

And the steak selection is appealing. The New York strip is pressed with black pepper, and the filet mignon comes with sauteed, mushrooms. I chose the blackened rib eye, the only steak I feel can stand up to the pungent Cajun seasonings grilled into the meat. It's a flavorful, 14-ounce steak, and the garlic mashed potatoes round out a hearty meal.

Of course, serving food is only half of what JT Schmid's does. It does brew some very fine beers, especially if you like heartier varieties. Most brew-pub beers are much alike, but JT Schmid's amber ale and extra stout have a distinctively rich, bitter flavor, which is manna for those who like heavy beers. I happen not to, and I gladly drained the crisp, golden JT Light ale and the perky hefeweizen, garnished with a lemon slice. All things for all people may not always work with food, but it's great for beer drinking.

Prices are moderate to expensive. Appetizers run $4.95 to $8.95, salads $5.95 to $12.95, sandwiches $7.95 to $9.95, pizzas $9.45 to $15.95 and entrees $9.95 to $24.95.

* JT Schmid's, 2610 E. Katella Blvd., Anaheim. (714) 634-9200. Sunday through Thursday, 11 a.m.-10 p.m.; Friday, 11 a.m.-11 p.m.; Saturday, noon-11 p.m.

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