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

Good Dixie Dining, but Hold the Kitsch

September 10, 2000|KAREN NEWELL YOUNG | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

I've never been a big fan of Southern-theme restaurants, with their misspelled menus and hee-haw decor. It seems an unfair slap at Dixie. But one thing you can say for them is that they know how to sling grits and grease.

Johnny Rebs' in Orange has one of the tastiest Southern-style breakfasts in Orange County. If you don't mind a few peanut shells on the floor (my daughter was horrified; don't they have brooms?) and some corny signs on the wall, this cheery spot fills the bill for a Sunday outing.

Owners Larry and Cheryl Carter have gone to great lengths to bring the South to Southern California. Frequent visitors to Larry's hometown of Winston-Salem, N.C., the couple have decorated this restaurant and their other two (in Bellflower and Long Beach) with rusted farm implements, checked tablecloths, stuffed animal heads on the walls and Texas Pete Pepper Sauce on the tables.

Contributing to the happy atmosphere are ceramic pigs and roosters placed around the restaurant, a charming screened-in porch with rusted-bucket lights and drinks served in Mason jars. And when your order comes up, the cook clangs a triangle just like Grandpappy Amos of the Real McCoys.

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On a recent visit, we were greeted by a friendly gal (manager Judy James) in red bandanna and blue denim vest who coddled us throughout our meal. Freezing under giant fans, we were quickly reseated outside, where I felt as if I was back in my Ohio hometown eating barbecued pork on my back porch (except we didn't have as many rusted buckets hanging from the ceiling).

It's not just the down-home theme that sets Johnny Rebs' apart from other good breakfast spots. The country cooking here comes straight from Southern recipes, and everything is made from scratch.

The huge menu includes excellent buttermilk biscuits, fried catfish and eggs, barbecue pork, chicken-fried steak, grits, country ham and smokehouse bacon.

We are talking hearty breakfasts here.

Our small group ordered a large selection of side dishes, including tasty country potatoes ("Yankee spuds") with onions, mushrooms, tomatoes and avocado (the latter surely a concession to California tastes); buttery grits; biscuits with smoky country gravy and a side of fried catfish.

We also enjoyed huge platters of eggs with the barbecued pork, country-fried steak and ground-beef patty, although none of us cleaned our plates.

The delicious country-fried chicken was voted best of the bunch.

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Johnny Rebs' is a meat-lover's place. Most of the omelets, biscuit sandwiches and egg dishes come with bacon, ham, sausage, beef or pork. But several plates can be prepared with vegetables and cheese instead.

Come back at night for fried-green tomatoes, okra, hush puppies and collard greens. You may come away from Johnny Rebs' with more than a full stomach.

The menu offers some sophisticated dining advice as well: "Sit up straight, git yer elbows offn' the table and don't be puttin' food up yer nose." Anyone offended out there?

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Johnny Rebs', 2940 E. Chapman Ave., Orange. (714) 633-3369. Sunday breakfast served 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. Prices average $6.

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