4663 Long Beach Blvd
Long Beach, CA 90805
Years ago, a friend and I drove down to Johnny Rebs' in Long Beach for lunch. It was a good meal, not great, and I figured I probably would never be back. I had forgotten to take my camera that day, so I never was able to post any pictures of that meal. A few months later I drove that same friend down to Orange County to pick up a new car he had purchased, and we decided to try the Johnny Rebs' in Orange. I loved that meal and wrote a blog post about it.
Sunday, as Elizabeth and I were relaxing and cleaning after our 4th of July barbecue, we were watching Food Network. On Guy's Big Bite, Guy and another chef made a fantastic looking pulled pork sandwich with a Carolina vinegar sauce. I am pretty much always in the mood for barbecue, but on this particular day it was more than a desire, it was an almost need to eat some barbecue with a Carolina-style sauce. I thought about giving Territory BBQ another try, but I will probably wait at least another month or so to try them again. Suddenly I remembered Johnny Rebs' amazing North Carolina barbecue sauce, perhaps the best I have had in California, and I wanted it very badly.
So Elizabeth and I drove down to Long Beach for lunch. The place was packed when we arrived, and after waiting about 20 minutes we were given a table. (The hostess still called my name twice more, however. She looked a little confused.) We waited about another 15 minutes without any server coming by our table. The manager noticed that we had been sitting for some time without anyone paying attention to us, and she came over, apologized, and took our drink orders. Elizabeth got a peach lemonade and I got an iced tea, both served in Mason jars, which always makes me happy. A few minutes later the manager told us she had put in an appetizer order for us, on the house, as an apology for making us wait so long without service.
That wasn't necessary - her apology alone was enough - but I wasn't about to complain, especially when the appetizer arrived: a giant plate of onion rings. The batter was too dense and over-fried for my taste, but the onions were awesome, and I ate several of them. I took one onion out of the batter and ate it, discarding the batter onto a plate. The fact that this is the exact opposite of the way I ate onion rings when I was a kid was not lost on me.
I ordered a pulled pork sandwich with fries and cole slaw, and Elizabeth ordered the chopped brisket sandwich with the same sides. My sandwich certainly looked good when it arrived: a generous helping of pork with plenty of smoke ring on a soft bun. I took a couple bites of the sandwich plain. The pork was good, but too dry. I added some cole slaw and a generous amount of their North Carolina barbecue sauce and it was much better.
"Do you like it?" Elizabeth asked me.
"Yes," I said.
"But you don't love it?"
"You almost never love the barbecue you get."
"That's certainly true in Southern California."
I took a bite of her brisket sandwich. The meat was very good, better than my pork, but it was already covered in sauce, which I thought was too sweet. If a brisket needs sauce (and this one certainly didn't), I prefer something with a little more kick to it, something along the lines of Gates or Rudy's. But it wasn't a bad sauce, and Elizabeth certainly loved her sandwich.
I was full by the time I had eaten my sandwich and about a quarter of my fries, but I still pushed on and finished my plate, because their North Carolina sauce is absolutely fantastic. The fries were a good vehicle for eating more of the sauce, although I'm sure I could just drink it. This is probably my favorite barbecue sauce in Southern California. It may be another few years before I make it back to Johnny Rebs', but I know that sauce will get me back eventually.