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ORANGE COUNTY CALENDAR: ARTS, ENTERTAINMENT, LEISURE
| Sunday Brunch

A Great Place to Pile It On

It's called the Barn and looks like a garage, but at $13.95 its down-home cooking and abundant champagne make it one of the county's good deals.

October 08, 2000|TOM VASICH | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Whether it be an ocean view or a sunny patio, an important element of Sunday brunch is atmosphere. So for those of you who prefer niceties such as a cool breeze, light and a pleasant vista, the Barn may not be your kind of place. But if you appreciate the historical trappings of an auto mechanic's garage of, say, 1936--not to mention meaty offerings such as barbecued ribs and chicken, roast beef, ham, biscuits with gravy and dangerous amounts of champagne--this Tustin steakhouse may be to your liking.

With walls packed with old license plates, tools and motor oil placards, the Barn may not offer a classic brunch atmosphere, but it features a tasty buffet spread and free-flowing champagne and orange juice that with a $13.95 cost qualifies as one of the better feasting bargains in the county.

If you've ever eaten at a small-town Southern barbecue social, where the portions are almost as big as the appetites, you'll feel comfortable here with heaping plates of not exactly heart-healthy food. At first, I was a bit taken aback by the hot-plate items like beef stroganoff, meaty beef ribs dripping with sauce, mounds of barbecue chicken and biscuits to be topped with pasty white sausage gravy. But the Barn makes this stuff really good, making it difficult not to go back for seconds--or thirds.

As with most brunch buffets, it's best to pass on the fried potatoes, bacon and link sausage, which if they are not dry and tasteless, are merely ordinary. While there were no scrambled eggs, there was a tasty broccoli quiche, which doesn't really fit in the theme of things, but it was one of the most popular buffet items.

The best part of this buffet was the serving stations. One offered fresh sliced roast beef and ham--both choices were tender and tasty. A sharp horseradish sauce accompanied the roast beef, but one of my brunch buddies griped that there were no rolls to go with it.

The other serving station featured omelets to order and freshly made waffles. The omelet ingredient choices are the usual ones--ham, onion, green peppers--but you don't want to waste your time on this.

The waffles, on the other hand, were awesome--light and crunchy and ready to be topped with fresh whipped cream and strawberries. These waffles alone were worth coming for.

For brunch, the Barn rolled out its regular salad bar, complete with iced plates you pull from an old Coke machine. The produce was crisp and fresh, but I preferred loading up on the watermelon slices that dominated the fruit area.

When my group of five finished strafing the buffet and returned to our tables to eat, we noticed that our bounty was embarrassingly excessive, literally piled high on our plates. But then I looked around and saw that we were no different. The room was filled with folks blissfully packing away great mounds of food. These people didn't come for a dainty brunch; they came to eat.

So did we, chowing down what was before us and, like good girls and boys, returning for seconds. And then came dessert.

Befitting the barbecue social feel of the place, the dessert choices of both chocolate and white cake, chocolate pudding, green jello and a large bowl of apple cobbler were totally acceptable. The cakes were surprisingly moist, and the cobbler completely captured the essence of the Barn's brunch experience.

This brunch also included free-flowing champagne. You can tell the bubbly is not a regular part of the beverage selection here because it's served in large wine goblets. And the minute you sip more than half your glass, a stealthy server swoops in to fill it again. Since it's part of the low price, you must indulge.

The Barn is not the best ventilated of places, so it can get a bit warm and stuffy inside. In this kind of environment--coupled with a whole lot of good food and champagne--there is only one reasonable thing to do when you pay up and leave. Go home and take a nap.

BE THERE

The Barn, 14982 Red Hill Ave., Tustin. (714) 259-0115. Sunday brunch hours: 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Cost: $13.95 per person.

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