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ORANGE COUNTY CALENDAR | Sunday Brunch

Orange Eatery Offers a Bit of Heaven for the Belly

March 26, 2000|KAREN NEWELL YOUNG | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The neighborhood near Orange's traffic circle has attracted an eclectic mix of churches.

There's the Gujarati Indian Christian Church, St. Mary Magdalene Anglican Catholic Church and an assembly for Ex-Mormons for Jesus.

And then there's P.J.'s Abbey.

The Abbey bills itself as an award-winning restaurant and banquet facility.

But in a previous incarnation, it was the First Baptist Church of Orange, hence the towering Belgian stained-glass windows that soar toward the building's cathedral ceilings.

On Sundays, the Abbey is a favorite brunch spot for the believers, many of whom flock from the nearby churches to partake of the coffee and pastries in the Abbey's espresso bar and bakery.

Last week, a four-piece jazz band eased into Antonio Carlos Jobim's "The Girl From Ipanema" as patrons sat on restored wooden pews, waiting for tables.

The Abbey has an adequate drink selection. English-brewed Young's Double Chocolate Stout ($4), which despite its name has a mere hint of cocoa, was hard to pass up.

Order a drink, because waiting for service here could be as irritating as a lengthy sermon.

The jazz band, however, provides ample entertainment, even though the acoustics of the high-ceilinged room are problematic.

If you're in a large group, be prepared to talk at the top of your voice and only to the person seated next to you.

As if trying to please the diverse congregants, the Abbey has an expansive brunch menu that--along with the usual eggs and pancake dishes--includes sandwiches, salads and lunch entrees.

For meat eaters, there's steak and eggs ($9.95) and meatloaf ($8.99). Our friend ordered his steak medium, and reported it was more rare than medium.

The breakfast potatoes--crispy and seasoned just right--complemented most dishes.

The meatloaf, served to a man with a cholesterol count that's higher than most major league batting averages, was firm and tasty with a tangy sauce.

The sweet-pepper and pesto-chicken sandwich ($7.99), a chicken breast smothered with pesto sauce and feta cheese, was the hit of the table.

For those who eat lower on the food chain, there are a number of choices.

The chopped spinach salad ($7.99) proved to be a true delight: an ample portion of spinach topped with sugared walnuts (even though the menu promised pecans), blue cheese, caramelized onion, balsamic vinaigrette and decorated with dandy threads of carrot and red cabbage.

The California omelet ($7.99) was a little overcooked, but still satisfying, stuffed with green chiles, tomatoes and cheese (the superior-but-lovable vegetarian among us making the grand gesture of waving off the bacon).

The Abbey has a dazzling selection of desserts. Don't leave without ordering the chocolate bread pudding ($4.25). It's moist but not too rich.

The creamy topping, which has little stripes of chocolate drizzled across it, leaves you yearning for the next bite.

*

P.J.'s Abbey, 182 S. Orange St., Orange, (714) 771-8556. Brunch served 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. On the Internet: www.pjsabbey.com.

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