Long-time chowhounds will recognize that I posted a plea a while back looking for a great chicken-fried steak. (I was graciously offered a recipe by cookiemonster, which turned out okay, but not as good as I had hoped. I'll need more practice, I guess!) I found the BEST one I've had on the West Coast at Johnny Reb's, which was an excellent suggestion made by a chowhound, to whom I'm forever in debt.
Johnny Reb's Southern Roadhouse, in Long Beach, has the real-deal southern food down. The cutesy decor (House of Blues meets Disneyland) made me wonder if they spent a little too much money on the decor instead of the food, but that's my usual barometer for casual restaurants. (I can't help thinking that way, I'm Chinese and it certainly applies to Chinese restaurants!) To help determine southern authenticity, I brought along a friend -- a down-home boy from Austin, Texas (descended from Kentuckians) who considers mac and cheese a vegetable, and Makers Mark the ultimate hostess gift. He's the real deal.
He was a little suspicious of the food's authenticity as I, even though a little sticker in the window declared "Texas Friendly spoken here". But as soon as he ordered his RC Cola, and it really WAS RC Cola, he relaxed and began to think that all would be well after all.
I wanted to begin with both fried green tomatoes and fried okra for starters, but since aforesaid friend doesn't like vegetables, I only persuaded him to share a half-order of okra rolled in cornmeal and fried. Which I found light, crunchy and all-around delightful, but he couldn't appreciate even when the standard junk-food condiment, ranch dressing, was heaped upon them. Oh well, more for me.
For someone who loves all the fixin's, Johnny's offered an delicious-sounding range of sides that made it difficult to choose an appropriate partner to accompany my CFS. I ended up with the Southern slaw and black-eyed peas. The slaw didn't seem that southern to me, but the black-eyed peas were great. Smoky, smooth, and went down like buttah. Friend had sides of fries and Brunswick stew to accompany his brisket. I don't get how Brunswick stew is a southern food, and he couldn't really explain it either, but he said it was good. Next time, I'll try their Texas Caviar (which I also make myself), and collards, which are a good test of cooking skills since they can sometimes be unusually nasty.
On to the CFS. Fantastic! Hearty and good, beefy but not too heavy, everything I love in a CFS! Crunchy, almost puffy-looking, light and chewy, full of fried-in-fat goodness. It's truly a magic of science that you can deep fry meat in a batter and still make it not go down like a ton of bricks. A little dollop of the cream gravy with each bite sealed the deal. I was in heaven. (Friend's brisket was good, but was shredded like pulled pork. He's used to having it sliced very thinly, but I think it was still good, just different from what he was accustomed to.)
No room for dessert this time (remember, I had all the okra), but next time I go, after I try the baby backs I'll tuck into the drop-biscuit peach cobbler and see how I feel.
I have one or two other places I'm planning to visit closer to home for CFS, but I have a feeling I've already found the winner. And will schlep to Long Beach to get my occasional fix.
Johnny Reb's Southern Roadhouse and Catering
4663 Long Beach Blvd.
Long Beach, CA 90805
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