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Counter Intelligence

Belly Laughter

September 05, 1996|CHARLES PERRY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The first thing you see at Belisle's is a groaning table of desserts: huge pans of cobbler, chocolate cakes nine inches tall, cookies the size of long-playing records--no kidding. On the way to your table, you pass more monster cakes and a case of iceberg-shaped cream pies that must be six inches high. The chocolate eclairs look like submarine sandwiches piped with whipped cream.

Belisle's, a mile south of Disneyland, opened its doors in 1955 just a couple of weeks before the Happiest Place on Earth itself. It's a sort of theme park in its own right, and the theme is gigantism. When you order ice tea, it comes in a quart-size Coca-Cola glass--with a plastic straw 20 inches long. People openly stare at the platters being delivered to other tables. Probably the most frequently uttered words here are "Oh, my God!"

These days, the sign on the building refers to the restaurant's four decades of age, but it used to read, "5 Out of 4 Eat Here." About the only thing that's gotten smaller in the last 41 years is the hours of operation. At one time, Belisle's was open around the clock.

The single most famous entry on the menu is probably the Texas-style breakfast (served all day): a jumbo glass of orange juice, a 26-ounce steak, a dozen jumbo eggs any style, hash browns with country gravy, a stack of pancakes and your choice of biscuit, corn bread or toast. It's $49.95, and I expect it's mostly ordered on a dare, or by parties of two or three giggling college kids. (Note: There's a $2.50 charge for splitting an order.)

The menu doesn't have an appetizer section--hey, you don't want to spoil your appetite--but some entrees do come with soup or salad. The soup might be a dark-green split pea with lots of ham. The green salad comes in a quart glass bowl with fat croutons and lightly pickled cucumber slices.

The size motif may be humorous, but the food isn't kidding. It's good old-fashioned diner stuff. There are a couple of pastas in tomato sauce--say, cheese ravioli (the size of your average poached egg). Roast turkey breast comes in the traditional lunch counter yellow sauce that seems basically a moistening agent. A somewhat plain meatloaf (lots of it) is cloaked in meaty gravy lightly dosed with cumin.

The one-pound King Kong burger, made with two of the regular half-pound patties and garnished with lettuce, tomato, pickle, onion and sticky American cheese, is absolutely an old-fashioned diner hamburger, apart from the fact that there is three or four times as much of it. The most amazing sandwich is the Texas-style Dagwood: meatloaf, turkey, ham, beef, three cheeses and two fried eggs layered into a loaf of bread. It stands about eight inches high, held together with long wooden skewers. It's a little dry, so ask for some mustard on the side. Oh, yeah--it comes with pickles and turkey stuffing.

Barbecue is surprisingly good here. The beef short ribs, for instance (available only on Sundays and Friday and Saturday evenings), may not be smoky at all but they're meaty and tender, quite irresistible in their old-fashioned tomato-ey barbecue sauce. There are a couple of steaks, including a good teriyaki steak: a couple of lengths of skirt steak sharing a foot-long platter with broccoli in cheese sauce, a big baked potato and some fried pineapple slices.

Dessert is the big, big finish. The cakes and sundaes taste like many another--the chocolate cake is Duncan Hines-like, the hot fudge sundae Hershey's-ish (well, the ice cream is very good; it's made on the premises)--though built on a vaster scale. There are also a couple of real marvels, such as the delicious peanut butter-flavored Reese's cream pie, topped with hand-whipped cream and Reese's peanut butter cups.

Best of all is the strawberry shortcake, which comes in a one-quart coupe, looking like a scarlet bowling ball. Local strawberries are a seasonal specialty at Belisle's, which does get wonderfully sweet, ripe berries. "Strawberry Pie" is always painted on the windows when strawberries are in season.

Eating at Belisle's is a hilarious experience, and though you may have a restless night if you insist on cleaning your plate, it's also soothing--even, in an odd way, healing. Belisle's is a visit to a sunny, unapologetic America where people didn't tiptoe through life on eggshells, fearing catastrophe from every quarter. Five out of four sure ain't bad.

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WHERE TO GO

Belisle's, 12001 Harbor Blvd., Garden Grove. (714) 750-6560. Open 7 a.m.-midnight Sunday-Thursday; 7 a.m.-2 a.m. Friday-Saturday. Beer and wine. Parking lot. MasterCard and Visa. Takeout. Dinner for two, $22-$78.

WHAT TO ORDER

Barbecued short ribs of beef (weekends only); teriyaki steak; King Kong burger; Reese's cream pie; fresh strawberry shortcake.

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