Memphis at the Santora, Eat There

By Charles Lam
Staff Writer

UC Irvine sucks at having interesting restaurants near campus. Orange County, however, doesn’t suck at having nice places to eat. Just 20 minutes off campus in the Santora Building of the Santa Ana Artist Village is Memphis, a modern bistro/lounge specializing in Southern-style comfort food. It’s the perfect place to meet for dinner after a night checking out the artist’s village.

The décor is airy and relaxing. The entrance opens toward the main avenue, close to multiple art galleries, the Gypsy Den and Chapter One. The entryway opens up to a large circular room with tables and booths sprinkled about, shifting on a regular basis. The interior is painted the same burnt orange as the sign, contrasting with pale sage accent walls. The floor is a deep mahogany color.
This place is pretty; this place is modern; this place is Web 2.0. Can Memphis fit a lot of people? No, not at all. Does it make you feel comfortable? Yes it does.

The décor is perfect for a place specializing in comfort food. The warm interior matches the home-style cooking perfectly. The menu is a cross section of Americana touched up for modern eaters. Fried chicken, meatloaf and Brussels sprouts share space with jambalaya, po’ boys and crab cakes.

The fried chicken, though it may gather comparisons to other Southern-style fried chicken, stands proudly on its own. The skin is crisp, with a satisfying crunch that doesn’t tire out your jaw. Despite the texture only good oil can create, the chicken is still very clean, leaving you always hungry for more.

For vegetarians, the barbecued mushrooms will make you forget that you ever missed meat. Though meaty and slimy might not exactly sound appetizing, the sheer density of the mushroom is enough to fool the biggest meat eaters. Combine that with a barbecue flavor that’s as smokey as Corona and a polenta more creamy than any other and you get a dish that’s perfectly vegetarian, and wonderfully delicious.

Not everything is sure fire, however. The meat loaf, one of the most popular dishes, can be a little disconcerting. Made more for people who’ve grown up with meat loaf, Memphis’ offering is so close to being wonderful, with its aged cheddar cheese, barbecue glaze and perfectly prepared green beans, but ultimately falls just short of a dish everyone should try. Thanks to the strange texture and heavy mushrooms.

In addition to the strong menu, the bartenders at Memphis are one of the best groups in Orange County. Knowledgeable, quick and fairly attractive, they’re always willing to mix you up something interesting. Don’t order your regular drinks here, either let the bartenders make you their favorite or try an ‘Old Fashioned,’ a cocktail made with sugar, bitters, bourbon, orange zest and water.
Memphis might be a little far, but it’s worth the trip, just for the environment alone. It’s the perfect place to eat at on a night out. If you’re not interested in driving that far, the menu is also available at the Memphis Café next to the LAB Anti-mall.