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Nov 4, 2007 04:05 PM

REVIEW: Johnny Rebs' Southern Roadhouse, Orange

Orange County is weird. It's got this reputation, thanks to television, as this completely suburban white-bread area, full of surfer dudes, platinum-blonde trophy wives and the idle rich. Chow-wise, a lot of Angelenos assume that as soon as you cross over onto the nice new freeways you've entered some kind of cosmic do-not-chow zone, populated only by Olive Gardens and Chili's and Johnny Carino's.

There's at least some truth to that -- there are definitely parts of OC (not "the OC", please) that fit that bill, yet some of the finest ethnic food in the greater LA area is found "beyond the Orange Curtain", and there are certain things that are rare or unique to our area. Chicago deep-dish pizza? The first five answers on any post contain the words "Tony's" and "Placentia". German food? What are there, four German restaurants left in the area, two of which are in Anaheim?

Well, one of the rarer items is actual good Southern food. I'm not talking just about barbecue, but about Southern food in general, the kind of food your mama cooked if you were lucky enough to live in, say, Georgia. Catfish and okra and green tomatoes and real fried chicken, washed down not with alcohol but with quarts of good, tooth-achingly sweet tea.

Johnny Rebs' is kind of a licorice-all-sorts of Southern cuisine. They do have barbecue, yes -- and it's quite tasty, easily as good as any of the other barbecue places in Orange County -- but they also have fried catfish, and fried okra, green tomatoes and hush puppies, Brunswick stew and sometimes Kentucky burgoo (only as a special). The drinks come in Mason jars (despite the fact that in half the barbecue shacks I've been in in the South, they don't anymore), the service is friendly, and the portions are enormous, even at lunch.

They don't try to be what they're not -- the waitstaff don't try to affect Southern accents they didn't grow up with (which always makes me chuckle, because most Southern accents don't sound remotely like actors trying to affect Southern accents), there's not country music playing on the jukebox, and there's a minimum of cutesy "haut roadhouse" d├ęcor. The menu is only slightly self-consciously Southern ("fixins" rather than "sides"), and though you toss your peanut shells on the floor, they're swept up regularly.

The food is very good -- barbecue comes with either "smokehouse" BBQ sauce, which is sweet with a bit more heat than you might expect, or with "North Carolina" BBQ sauce, which is watery and vinegary (but no mustard -- apparently it's not East Carolina). Things that are fried are coated in the right kind of cornmeal. The sides are well-done and you can get a refill if you haven't had enough in the cup-and-a-half-sized bowls they give you. Coleslaw is mayonnaisey and crisp, mac and cheese is tasty with some extra cheese melted on top (but "too floury" according to Mrs Ubergeek -- I don't agree), and collard greens are well-cooked with definite meat bits in there to let you know they cooked it right. There's pepper sauce on the table [for those of you who don't know Southern cooking, pepper sauce isn't Texas Pete's or red Tabasco sauce, it's little yellow Tabasco peppers and salt swimming in white vinegar] and if you ask nicely they'll bring you some of the pot likker for your cornbread. Biscuits are large and fluffy -- they must import White Rose flour, which I've never been able to find here for under $8 a bag and there's honey on the table for them.

I suggest going for lunch. The portions are larger at dinner but even for a big guy like me, lunch portions are fine, especially since you can have a second helping of your side dishes for free if you want. The price difference is significant -- today's bill, which was $24 and tip for a two-item BBQ combo, a [huge] beef sandwich and tea, would have been $31 at dinner. Given the price of some of the other barbecue places I've been to recently, $10.75 for a huge plate of food sounds reasonable (I had the two-item combo, natch). They have country-style breakfast until 11 AM (until 1 PM on Sunday) and, unusually for places in California, will actually make dippy eggs for you. [Translation for Yankees: eggs over easy, where you dip your toast or biscuit in the yolk until it's gone, then eat the whites.]

There are four locations, only one of which is in OC. The Long Beach location is under remodel after a deep-fryer fire, but the Bellflower, Orange and Victorville locations are open. (Yes, mods, I know that Victorville goes on the California board, but I'm reviewing the Orange location here.)

It's a nice place to go, it's pretty authentically Southern without being precious about it, it's cheap as Southern places in LA go, and the food is very, very good.

Johnny Rebs' Southern Roadhouse
16639 Bellflower Blvd, Bellflower, CA 90706

Johnny Rebs' Southern Roadhouse
4663 Long Beach Blvd, Long Beach, CA 90805

Johnny Rebs' Southern Roadhouse
2940 E Chapman Ave, Orange, CA 92869

Johnny Rebs
15051 7th St, Victorville, CA 92395

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  1. Thanks, Ubergeek. We are anxiously waiting for the LB location to reopen. Love the Johnny Reb's Special Sandwich -- Carolina pulled pork with that vinegary sauce. Their sweet potato pancakes for breakfast are awesome!

    1. Nice review, I've been to 2 of the locations (Long Beach and Orange), and always enjoy my meals there. I've found their Brunswick stew to be one of the more unique sides at any BBQ restaurant and I get it every time, very delicious. I've been meaning to go back and explore other parts of the menu after getting BBQ in all of my previous visits.

      1. I'm a big fan of the Chicken Fried Steak at Johnny Rebs. A pal originally from Texas turned me on the the CFS -- he regularly drives from Santa Monica to Bellflower for Johnny Reb's CFS.

        1. Ubergeek, I think you meant White LILY flour...which was available at Surfas for around $5 until the maker decided to stop sending it out here, sob sob (yes, and SOB, too!).

          Anyway, my earnest thanks for this eye-opening and tummy-teasing review. Looks like we have a new place to stop into on our trips to Long Beach - especially important now that Henry Moffett's has closed. Tell me, do they have grits? Sawmill gravy? And how's the cornbread?

          2 Replies
          1. re: Will Owen

            Like Johnny Reb's. The service is good, and the food is good, but in OC, my favorite place to eat ribs is at the Tulsa Rib Company. Short Ribs and Beef Ribs are amazing. The Ribs Ribs Ribs platter is more satisfying than the Elmer Dills special at Johnny Rebs.

            1. re: nomo_fan

              I seen numerous comments that the ribs at Tulsa Rib Comapny are very good but I think I also read the Tulsa Rib Company does NOT smoke its ribs. True?

          2. i remember when johnny rebs opened in orange - i lived about 1 mile away - i was so excited because the eastside of orange had little going for it foodwise - sure we had taco mesa ( loved taco mesa !! ) in-n-out burger, moreno's for a nice patio on a hot summer night for basic margueritas and basic mexican food ( though i did like the carnitas ) and what was the name of that relatively unique restaurant ...the hobbit ?? something like that ( my memory stinks and i have not lived in orange for about 5 years now ) and several ok places on tustin ( arthurs for a decent breakfast...inconsistent...a little pricey...but i liked the place, and yes...tustin rib..a few decent italian places, mediterranean and gee....what was that one place...they serrved ...patsie's...something like that ! ) anyways, johnny rebs - i ate there about 5 times...eveytime - i tried, i really tried to like the place ( i admit, never tried the place for breakfast ) but it didn't work for me - maybe it's changed since then, maybe my tastebuds have been diluted from too many tommy burgers, breakfasts at the pantry, dodger dogs...who knows ?!?! i need to venture into my old neighborhood and try johnny rebs again - if it stinks, i'll simply stop eating what i ordered and i'll drive up the street and enjoy taco mesa or on the way home, stop at that new place over on katella by the stadium it lazy dog ?? something like the space previously occupied by gordon biersch - i had some appetizers there before a was promising.