Some years ago, as a grad student taking courses at College of the Canyons, my classmates and I finished up a term and wanted to celebrate. As we discussed where to go after the final class, I threw out “Mulligan’s?!?!?” having never been there. (I was soundly rejected by those who knew better.) So, when word came down this past October that Mulligan’s was closing, the news was greeted without much surprise. The reputation of the place was bad in 2010, and kept heading downhill into 2014. The menu was stale, the decor (freshened just earlier last year for reality tv) was kitschy, and to be honest, it’s in an out-of-the-way spot next to a non-descriptive post office in a shopping center that is pretty much hidden from any major street.
Word came around that new local owners had bought the place and would be reopening as JJ’s Bar and Grill (JJ presumably for co-owners Jeannie, a caterer and Jeff, a general contractor) and bringing a fresh new menu and style. Hope and optimism sprung eternal that a new venture would bring life and once again become a great neighborhood hang for locals and Cal Arts students just across the street, and the golfers at Vista Valencia looking for something other than the 19th hole.
Needing to get everything right, they’ve been in a soft-opening phase for a while (since Mid-December, sometime before Christmas, although the exact date isn’t clear… the bartender/server waiting on us wasn’t sure when they opened exactly) and had a simple menu per some photos on Yelp. This isn’t unusual, and in fact, it’s good to get the bugs worked out and the menu refined and smoothed out.
After having lunch there Saturday, I think they need to try again. Upon entering, you see that while the signs have changed, it still looks and feels like Mulligan’s. Very Irish pub feel, from the white walls and dark trim to the light fixtures. Oh, the fact that the doors still have the Mulligan’s logo in the glass didn’t help either. After looking over the menu for a few minutes and contemplating an appetizer, we ordered the Irish nachos (again, if you’re trying NOT to be Mulligans….) Our server, Chuck said they were great, featuring their house chili which has been very well received. Lady Ducayne ordered the Dirty Dog, a bacon wrapped hot dog on a pretzel bun topped with tortilla strips, and accompanied by a side salad. I went with the shepherds pie, as I’m always up for a shepherd’s pie (something about the peas I think).
Well, the first bit of bad news was when Chuck returned after 15 minutes or so to inform us that they had no chili to make the Irish nachos with. This was a bit of a shock as the chili was featured on two menu items and offered in a bowl as a starter on its own. We instead opted for “French Fries Done Right!” which were surprisingly good. Thick hand-cut wedges fried perfectly. The chipotle dip that was offered along with was unremarkable, and the $7.50 pricetag for french fries is a little steep, but still not a bad starter to share.
Our entrees were not too far behind. The shepherd’s pie, which promised “prime ground beef, fresh cut vegetables and a rich beef sauce” under-delivered. No way to know if the beef was prime, nothing wrong with it and it had good beef flavor, but there was no noticeable sauce that I found. The vegetables were meager in their proportion, not contributing much to the flavor of the meat. The mashed potatoes on top were flavorless. Good texture, whipped nicely, but just lacked any richness or creaminess that you come to expect in good mashed potatoes. There was nothing bad about the entree, but on the whole it was just there. Nothing to make it memorable. I get shepherd’s pie because I want to see execution, and part of that is covering (entirely) the meat with mashed potatoes. My plate looked like it was a burger with a mashed potato bun.
Lady D was kind enough to offer me a taste of her “Dirty Dog” and it was interesting. Topped with crispy tortilla strips, and with avocado in the bun, some fun textures were there to play with. The hot dog was a good solid beef frank, and the bacon surrounding was cooked perfectly. The pretzel bun was a nice touch, but Lady D pointed out it could use some toasting, which I agree with. Overall, it lacked any real flavor, possibly because the avocado muted out some of the flavor from the dog and the bacon.
Finally we ended with the beignet with fruit dessert. When they say “fruit” they mean three raspberries and a handful of mandarin orange slices scattered around a large plate. Instead of dusting in the traditional powdered sugar, a they were tossed light coat of granulated sugar. Perfectly good, but again, a little pricey for what you get.
Overall, I left JJ’s Saturday feeling neither satisfied, nor dissatisfied. Aside from the major faux pas of not having chili 90 minutes into your service for the day, and the high prices on average dishes, there wasn’t anything bad about it. But it just wasn’t good. It’s not a place to go out of your way for in Santa Clarita, and this is out of the way for nearly everyone except the locals.
JJ’s Bar and Grill
25848 Tournament Rd
Santa Clarita, CA 91355