Sunday, July 8, 2012

Johnny Rebs' Bringing a Touch of the South to OC?

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

When it is time to pick a restaurant, who do you think everyone looks at in the group? Yes, that is right, me. Not that I mind, but it really is a large responsibility. Many a night has been made or ruined by a meal. I usually have to take into account what area we will be eating in, what price range we are looking at, and most importantly, what others reviewers have said or written about restaurants. I knew that Orange is in the middle for all of us meeting this night, so I suggested heading to Johnny Rebs.

Johnny Rebs Southern Roadhouse is located right on Chapman Avenue. As you are driving down this street, it really sneaks up on you. A good landmark to look for is The Hobbit. It is located right next door. Once you pass this venerable Orange restaurant, turn into the next driveway and you are at Johnny Rebs.

Not that I have ever been to a real roadhouse, but at Johnny's they really have the vibe down as to what I think a roadhouse would be like. Wood walls, peanut shells on the floor, and mismatched chairs all over the place. The restaurant kind of has a cabin feel to it. The middle of the restaurant is dominated by a long, communal, high top table.

We got here at about six thirty on a Friday night. No trouble getting in at this time, but the restaurant filled up during our stay here, so I imagine that there could be a wait at peak meal times. I have been here a long time ago, and remember liking it, but I have not been back since. I was excited not only with the company we had at this dinner, but also with the promise of some good barbecue. Let's see if Johnny Rebs can deliver.

So after sitting down one of the first things you notice is a big bucket of peanuts on the table. These peanuts are part of Johnny Rebs, "Shell Out For Charity" program. They offer you peanuts in exchange for any cash donation. Since they opened they have raised over $300,000 for numerous charities, including Operation Homefront, which aids military families of deployed service members and wounded service members who return home. A very worthwhile charity, and it is real nice that Johnny Rebs and their customers donate to this great cause.

Not sure what the deal was, but the manager that sat us said that since I suggested that we come here, he would get us an appetizer of our choosing. I asked which one he would suggest, and he said the Fried Green Tomatoes ($7.95), so that is the direction we took. These tomatoes are fried in a cornmeal mixture and served with a chipotle dip. These were okay, but I am not much of a tomato fan. The breading really was thick and changed the tomato texture. I did like the chipotle sauce that was served with this. Not a spicy sauce, but a little flavor seeped out of it.

Tim was the only one of us to get a salad. He called this, "a basic side salad". This Bitty Salad came with his meal, and it featured greens, tomatoes, red cabbage, and pickle chips. I thought the pickle chips were a little odd, but Tim did not seem to mind.

On to the entrees, and we will start with Anthony's selection. He ordered the 2 Item BBQ Combo ($22.50), with pulled pork and a hot link. He really liked the flavor of the sausage, but thought that the pulled pork was on the dry side. It really needed lots more sauce on it. With each combo meal you get your choice of two of the twelve side items which are called, Fixin's. Anthony chose the Mac 'n Cheese and the Onion Rings. He felt both side items were okay, but nothing that he would crave on his next visit here. Along with the two side items, you also get to choose a bread item, and he went with the hush puppies. Much like the pork, the hush puppies were drier than Palm Springs on a July day at noon. I have never had a decent hush puppy though. Maybe they are not my thing.

Next up is Dee's dinner, the Barbecue Chicken ($15.75). I have been out with Dee one other time, and sense that she is a finicky eater. So when she said she did not like her chicken I thought she was just being picky. I must apologize to you though Dee. If Anthony's pork was dry like Palm Springs in July, this chicken was as dry as the Sahara Desert after a fifty year drought. If I had ordered this I probably would have sent it back. Even the dark meat was tough to get through. There was no amount of sauce that could have saved this bird. For her two side items she went with mashed potatoes and veggies. The vegetables were the highlight of the night for Dee, while the potatoes were just okay, but she felt the gravy was too peppery. She selected a biscuit for her bread items, and thought it was just average. I still think you are a finicky eater Dee, but with this plate you had every right to be.

Dee's other half, Tim wanted to be just like Anthony, so he ordered the Two Item BBQ Combo ($22.50) as well. He did select different items though. He had the country fried steak and tri-tip. Tim questioned whether the country fried steak was made fresh, or just taken from a frozen dinner. He felt that the gravy was okay, but bland. This country fried steak also had temperature issues as well. Cold in some parts, and not overly hot at all. He did enjoy the tri-tip, calling it good, but it did not save the plate for him. Tim is a real vegetable guy, so he ordered double vegetables. He thought that the vegetables were cooked perfectly and very tender. For a bread item he got the cornbread. We all tried some of this, but I was not thrilled with this. Not sweet at all, and like almost everything else up to this point, very dry.

This is usually the part of the review that I say something mean about Sabrina, but I will refrain from doing so. I just want to keep her guessing! Anyways, sensational Sabrina selected this Johnny Rebs Special Sandwich with Pulled Chicken ($12.50). This sandwich is served with their North Carolina sauce on it. She liked this sandwich, but she needed more sauce to get through it due to the, yes you guessed it, dry chicken. For her side item she got the French fries, which she thought were average. See, I made it through this whole section without trashing horrible Sabrina.  Man, I should have quit typing a sentence before!

Katie also got a sandwich, the Smoked Tri-Tip Sandwich ($13.50). Along with the tri-tip, this sandwich also came with lettuce, tomato, onion, BBQ sauce and mayo. Katie thought the tri-tip was okay, but not as tender as she would have liked. She also could not really taste the flavor of the meat, because there was so much mayo on this sandwich. Her two fixins were the mac and cheese and collard greens. She liked the mac and cheese, saying it was, "creamy". She was not too big of a fan of the collard greens though. They were way too salty for her taste.

I always enjoy getting large combo plates when I am eating at BBQ restaurants. It really gives you the best chance to try a larger variety of a restaurants offerings. On this night I had the largest dinner they have, the Pork Out Dinner ($26.50), which comes with your choice of three meats. I went with the country fried steak, tri-tip and beef ribs. Like Tim, I thought the country fried steak was very mediocre. It was very tough to get a knife through, and it tasted like the ones they used to have at Carl's Jr. The other meats were a different story though. The beef ribs were very tender, and came off of the bone nicely. The tri-tip was definitely not the best I have had, but it was still pretty tasty. Moist, and the slightly sweet sauce went really well with the meat. I also thought the macaroni and cheese was good. Not too cheesy and very creamy. The mashed potatoes were average, and the biscuit was just all right. Not a bad plate of food, as long as you do not count the country fried steak.

No one else wanted dessert except for me, so I ordered the Banana Pudding ($5.25). This was not just banana pudding however. It had layers of vanilla wafers, bananas, vanilla pudding, and was topped with whipped cream. Not overly sweet, this was a decent dessert. I would have liked the wafers to have been more prominent here. They were all crumbled up, so it was hard to tell where they were. The pudding was smooth, but needed to be colder.

I remember Johnny Rebs being better than this. I really thought they did all of the red meat items well on this night. I would stay away from the chicken and the pork though. These meats were way too dry. The side items were all pretty average, with nothing wowing us. Barbecue is one of the toughest foods to get right, because there is just so much that can go wrong. The meats can be great, but the side items are sub par, or the sides could be great, and the meats are awful. There are just so many components to a great barbecue place. Service on this night was pretty good. I thought the prices were a little on the high side. I did not feel like I ate $26 worth of food. I feel slightly bad for choosing this place, but I will do better next time guys!

Out of five bouncers, (because Johnny Rebs calls itself a roadhouse, and in the movie Road House, Patrick Swayze played a bouncer), five being best to zero being worst, Johnny Rebs' Southern Roadhouse gets 2 bouncers.

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  1. Last time I ate at Johnny Rebs I thought the portion sizes were too small for the price. I too thought the food was good but nothing over the top special.

  2. I haven't been in a couple years, but when I've gone in the past I've had the chicken and liked it, as it wasn't dry then and had a real good smoked flavor. I actually remember when this place used to be on Katella Ave. in Anaheim near the "Satellite Market" and across from Flakey Jakes. Sad to see it's gone downhill as you all experienced.

  3. Papa - Glad to know I am not the only one that thought this. You can see that they did not even fill up the plate with my 3 item combo. Too many better BBQ joints out there. Thanks for the comment.

    Mike - Wow, that is a long time ago. I used to love Flakey Jake's! Johnny Rebs' has seen better days, but maybe we just hit it on a bad day, but that chicken was as dry as my Dad's humor. Ugh! Thanks for the comment!