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Jimmy G's is devoted to casual dining, American fare

| Sunday, Dec. 5, 2004

Jimmy G's Restaurant has personality plus.

Not only is it a full-service restaurant, but private dining rooms and a grand ballroom -- the latter with room for 350 people -- make the Sharpsburg spot a place to be for banquets, wedding receptions and live entertainment, too.

Unfortunately, its assets sometimes get tangled in understandable confusion, according to owner James Guenther Jr.

"We have a very large building -- one side is the restaurant, the other is the ballroom," he says. "They operate independently of one another, and diners in the restaurant can't hear or see what's going on in the ballroom." The dual function leads some people to think that Jimmy G's is a supper club, requiring membership, he says. However, all are welcome to "Wine and Dine in Casual Elegance," which is the restaurant's tag line.

Jimmy G's celebrates its 15th anniversary next Sunday.

The restaurant's cuisine often is misunderstood, too. Four-and-a-half years ago, Guenther moved his traditional American-style restaurant from Aspinwall to the former site of Montemurro's, a family-owned Italian dining landmark for several decades. While some Italian-themed dishes are served -- including Veal Parmigiana, Pasta Bolognese and Chicken Alfredo -- the focus of Jimmy G's remains "basic American," featuring beef, poultry, pork, veal and pasta, Guenther adds. Prime rib is available on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, and fresh salmon is prepared in a different style every day.

Heading the kitchen for nearly four years is executive chef Eric Fisher, who brings a flair for cooking fresh and exotic fish and seafood from his hometown of Seattle. His wife, Carol, is a Pittsburgh native. Fisher is a mentor to many Pittsburgh-area culinary students who work their apprenticeships in Jimmy G's restaurant and banquet kitchens.

Fisher -- who makes many of the desserts -- shared a seasonal pumpkin cheesecake with Cooking Class. Guenther also proudly asks diners to try contributions by Rachel Huet -- his mother-in-law -- to his menu: a piece of plain, amaretto or Chambord/raspberry cheesecake; and, at holiday time, pumpkin rolls.


Executive chef Eric Fisher of Jimmy G's Restaurant in Sharpsburg suggests that if you have curious family members, house guests or roommates, tie the oven door shut after the cheesecake goes into the oven to prevent prying eyes. If the oven is opened and shut during baking, the temperature will drop, which might cause the cheesecake to fall.

To make clarified butter, melt one stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter in a saucepan over low heat or in a microwave oven. Skim off the white froth on the top, then pour off the clear butter, leaving the sediment behind.

To dry the mandarin oranges, place them on paper or cloth towels to soak up the juices.

Magic Orange Pumpkin Cheesecake

    For the cake:
  • 1 cup dried cranberries, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons Grand Marnier liqueur
  • 1 tablespoon kirsch (cherry brandy)
  • Vegetable cooking spray
  • Fine graham cracker crumbs
  • Water
  • 1 pound cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 pound ricotta cheese, at room temperature
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 cup canned pumpkin (not pumpkin pie mix)
  • 2 cups (1 pound) sour cream, at room temperature
  • 1/4 cup clarified butter
  • 2/3 cup cornstarch
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • Dash grated nutmeg
  • Juice and grated peel of 1 orange, divided
  • Juice and grated peel of 1/2 lemon, divided

    For the topping:

  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 1 to 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla, to taste
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar

    For the cream cheese-whipped cream garnish (optional):

  • 4 ounces cream cheese, softened
  • 1 cup whipping cream
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla
  • 2 tablespoons granulated sugar

    For assembly :

  • Mandarin oranges, patted dry, for garnish
  • Crystallized ginger, minced
  • Fresh mint sprigs, for garnish
  • Edible flowers, for garnish (optional)

To prepare the cake: Combine the dried cranberries, Grand Marnier and kirsch, and let the cranberries soak at room temperature for several hours.

Coat a 9- or 10-inch springform pan liberally with vegetable cooking spray. Pour in some graham cracker crumbs and turn the pan to coat the sides and bottom. Tap out excess crumbs.

Fill a roasting pan with a few inches of water and place it on the lowest rack of the oven. Heat the oven to 325 degrees.

In an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment or beaters, beat 1 pound cream cheese at medium high until it's soft, smooth and creamy. Gradually add 1 cup granulated sugar and beat until fluffy. Add the ricotta cheese and beat at medium speed until combined. At low speed, add the eggs, one by one, mixing for about 30 seconds for each to be incorporated before the next is added.

At low speed, add the pumpkin, then the sour cream and then the clarified butter, mixing to incorporate each. Continuing to mix at low speed, add the cornstarch, then the cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg. Mix until incorporated. Stir in the orange and lemon juices -- reserve the peel for the garnish -- then fold in the undrained cranberries.

Turn the batter into the prepared springform pan. It does not need to fill the pan to the top because the cake will rise while baking. Fill a shallow roasting pan or rectangular cake pan with 1 or 2 inches of hot water. Place a rack in the pan; the water should not touch the grid. Put the cheesecake on top of the rack and place the pan into the oven on the middle shelf. The roasting pan with water that was put in the oven initially will be on the lower shelf below the cheesecake.

Close the oven door and bake for 1 1/2 hours -- no peeking -- or until the cake is just set in the center. Don't worry if the top cracks. Remove the cake from the oven and let the cake cool completely on a rack, then chill overnight.

The next day, heat the oven to 325 degrees. To prepare the topping : Whisk together 1 cup sour cream and the vanilla until smooth. Whisk in 1/3 cup granulated sugar. Spread the sweetened sour cream onto the top, leaving a 1/4-inch margin from the edges of the cake. Place the cake into the oven for 5 minutes to allow the topping to set. Refrigerate for about an hour, until the topping is firm.

Place the chilled cheesecake on a smooth surface and remove the sides of the pan. Remove the cake from the pan and set it on a cake plate.

To prepare the cream cheese garnish : Beat the cream cheese until smooth -- a flat beater on an electric mixer works well for this. Scrape down the beater. Add 1 cup whipping cream and beat, gradually adding 1 teaspoon vanilla and 2 tablespoons granulated sugar. Whip to stiff peaks of piping consistency.

To assemble and serve: Have ready a sinkful or bucket of hot water. To cut the cake into serving pieces, dip the blade of a long knife into the hot water, dry it, then cut the cake in half, gently pulling the blade through once it reaches the bottom. Continue cutting -- redipping and drying each time -- to make 8 to 16 pieces, as desired.

Pile the cream cheese garnish into a pastry bag fitted with a star or cone tip. Pipe rosettes at the wide edge of each cake slice. Top each with a mandarin orange wedge.

To serve, scatter a small amount of lemon and orange peel on a dessert plate. Top with a slice of the cake and sprinkle with more peel and some of the crystallized ginger. Garnish with a mint sprig and edible flower, if desired. Repeat with remaining servings, as needed. Refrigerate leftovers.

Makes 8 to 16 servings.

Additional Information:

Details

Jimmy G's, 1822 Main St., Sharpsburg, is open from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays and 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays. Closed Sundays. Dinner service begins at 5 p.m. A variety of cocktails and beers are available in the Pub, which is open until 2 a.m. nightly. Details: (412) 781-4884.

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