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If You're Game for a Meal

* Champps Americana in Irvine offers hearty breakfast fare in a family atmosphere, and you can choose your sport.


Champps Americana at the Irvine Spectrum is a great place for a Sunday morning compromise: It's a football fan's paradise with brunch thrown in.

Most sports-themed restaurants are barely disguised sports bars, the emphasis being on spicy chicken wings, greasy fried anything and cheap beer--hardly brunch fare. Champps smartly turns this trend on its head by covering the basics before layering on the sports.

This is noticeable from the moment you walk through the door and the maitre d' asks about your seating preference--not indoor or patio seating, mind you, but which game would be preferable for your dining pleasure. The same goes when you call to make a reservation--which is recommended.

Once you're seated, the server runs down a list of beverage options that include mimosas and champagne kirs and, if you must, beer. But the main attraction is the Bloody Mary bar, where you concoct drinks by picking and choosing from a dizzying array of imported vodkas, more than two dozen hot sauces and tidbits you probably never considered placing in a glass: marinated asparagus, artichoke hearts, mushrooms, garlic-studded olives and hot peppers.

And if that's not enough, there are footlong vegetable skewers--made of fresh Italian mushrooms, cherry tomatoes, bell peppers and onions--so large one cannot possibly fit inside a glass. You have no choice but to make your way back to your table, vegetable skewer in one hand, personalized Bloody Mary in the other.

It's such a stunning assortment that the vegetarian in our party announced she didn't need a menu--she'd graze at the Bloody Mary bar.

But you should leave room for the food, which is hearty, reasonably priced breakfast fare. It ranges from standard eggs, sausage links, crispy hash browns and fruit to sourdough French toast, omelets du jour and steaming waffles du jour. But the favorite was the breakfast nachos, a concoction that piled spicy scrambled eggs and a thin layer of black beans on large tortilla chips and smothered all in bubbling cheddar.

One thing to avoid: eggs Benedict. Although touted by the waiter and manager as outstanding, the eggs arrived at our table cooked all the way through, and the hollandaise sauce was watery and unforgivably tasteless.

Champps Americana offers a family- and kid-friendly atmosphere, another welcome difference from the standard sports joint.

One party--dad, mom, son and daughter--arrived early one recent Sunday decked out in purple Viking jerseys and planted themselves in front of the TV for the Minnesota game. The busy waiters and waitresses at nearby tables took a few moments to chat with children about their favorite teams and players. There's also a well-stocked kids menu.

Starting midweek, television deejays plot which games will be shown during the week ahead, with the edge going to conventional sports--anything and everything football, hockey, basketball. Special requests for games are entertained, but the majority generally rules. During the workweek, when game choices are thin, the lunch and afternoon crowds must settle for CNN and business news.


Champps Americana, Irvine Spectrum, (949) 453-9333. Sunday brunch: 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Meal prices range from $7 to $12.

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