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DISCOVERY

At Belisle's Restaurant, It Takes Teamwork to Eat the Whole Thing

December 22, 1988|PATRICK MOTT | Patrick Mott is a regular contributor to Orange County Life.

For more than 10 years, a sign atop Belisle's restaurant in Garden Grove has carried the assertion, "5 Out of 4 Eat Here."

People who have never eaten there probably think the sign is a joke. But for the 33 years' worth of customers who have gorged themselves into shock at Belisle's, it's dead-on truth in advertising. Any four people sitting down to a full meal there had better have the appetite of at least one more person or they won't have a prayer of a chance of cleaning their plates.

In the age of nouvelle cuisine, when pricey restaurants with unlisted phone numbers have won hosannas for serving up tiny plates of twigs with long French names and calling them specialty entrees, Belisle's continues to offer portions of food that could feed a horde of ravenous Visigoths.

For instance, how's this for an early morning bracer: a large glass of orange juice, followed by a 26-ounce sirloin steak, 12 large eggs, a stack of hot cakes, country-style fried potatoes and gravy, corn bread or toast, and coffee, tea or milk? It's called the Texas Breakfast, and it costs $44.95.

And, yes, $15.95 might seem a bit dear for a meat loaf dinner. But, then, the meat loaf on the plate is about the size of a Peterbilt engine block. And you could pay nearly $11 for spaghetti at Trattoria della Trendy and walk away wondering how Luciano Pavarotti could have gotten fat eating pasta, or you could pay the same at Belisle's and get enough noodles to weave a battleship hawser.

Belisle's started dishing up the Gargantuan meals almost exactly 2 weeks before Disneyland opened in 1955, said Charlotte Belisle, the original owner of the restaurant, along with her husband, Harvey.

At that time, the place was a tiny coffee shop just down the street from the soon-to-open park, next to an open-air market on the corner of Harbor Boulevard and Chapman Avenue.

"They'd call us from the park," she said, "and ask us if it was OK to send over 90 guys for lunch. We were so small then that we could only take 30 at a time, so that's how they sent them down."

The Belisles eventually bought the market next door and expanded the restaurant, relying on Harvey Belisle's imagination to keep the restaurant's name before the public. Harvey Belisle, who is no longer in the business, kept the large windows painted year-round with brightly colored ads, drove around in a van with similarly painted windows ("Beef Stew for You") and dreamed up the "5 Out of 4" sign in the mid-1970s.

Inspired by the color scheme of the garish--and successful--Madonna Inn in San Luis Obispo, he also painted the exterior of the restaurant, and his van, hot pink.

"He's quite a showman, Harvey is," Charlotte Belisle said.

Also, said the Belisles' son-in-law, Harry Roos, who is the restaurant's manager, "Harvey is one of those people who loves to feed people. And seeing them come away saying, 'There's so much. It was wonderful.'--well, it kind of fed him too."

Literally every food item in the place is huge, particularly the dozens of cakes, pies, cookies, muffins and other baked goods that the bakery on the premises produced each day.

"Most people really don't eat big like this anymore," Charlotte Belisle said. "But the people who come here come here for that very thing. We got started like this, and it's kind of hard to reverse it now."

Roos said, "I've seen big guys come in here-- big-- and they say they can't get filled up anywhere else."

The Minnesota Vikings once dropped by for a few Texas Breakfasts, Belisle said. And, she said, there's "this tiny little gal who comes down from L.A. in a limousine--she must be in the movie business--and she'll order one of those and eat the whole thing. That dish started out as one of Harvey's gimmicks, but we sell a lot of them, believe it or not.

"Most people split them, though."

BELISLE'S RESTAURANT AT A GLANCE

Where: 12001 Harbor Blvd., Garden Grove.

Hours: Open 24 hours a day.

Prices: Breakfasts (served 24 hours) from $8 to $44.95, lunch specials around $8, complete dinners from $16 to $47. Baked goods starting at around $4.

Information: (714) 750-6560.

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