300 N Main St
Santa Ana, 92701
Tue-Fri 11 am – 3 pm
Tue-Sat 5 pm – 12 am
Sat-Sun 9 am – 3 pm
Anyone who knows me, even if just a little, knows that I am a night owl. I often don’t start my homework until after dinner, I’ve been known to reply to emails in the wee hours of the morning and 3 a.m. is when I feel the most awake.
So when an editor from a past internship of mine recommended I try out a café that serves brunch at 9 a.m. and lunch at 11 a.m., I laughed, my prejudices already painting a picture in my head of me, with dark circles under my eyes, eating a piece of toast or a couple of eggs that in no way made up for my lack of sleep. But I took a leap of faith, and at precisely 11:15 a.m., when I sunk my teeth into a sandwich, Little Sparrow had this night owl convinced that maybe she could be an early bird, after all.
Located in the heart of downtown Santa Ana, Little Sparrow took over a worn-down building at the corner of 3rd and Main that had been abandoned for over 15 years. Since May of this year, however, this bright corner café has been anything but vacant.
Stand on the street corner outside and Little Sparrow looks like a 1950s diner. Classic black and white striped awnings hang over the windows and an old-fashioned café sign hovers over the door. But venture inside and you’ll see that Little Sparrow has merged the old with the new to create a light and quirky atmosphere.
Dozens of white paper lanterns of various sizes dangle from the open ceiling, and square, rectangular and oval-shaped mirrors cover the walls. The old black and white tiled floor — one of the few tell-tale signs that this place has been around longer than assumed — is contrasted with the more modern, light wooden tables and chairs. With a small vase of flowers on every table and cheerful music you can faintly hear despite the chatter, Little Sparrow’s atmosphere woke me up properly, though my waitress told me that when Little Sparrow opens for dinner at 6 p.m., the café is transformed into an intimate restaurant, with tables clothed in white and vases replaced with glowing candles.
A glance down the hallway — which is smothered in wallpaper with birds stamped all over it — reveals that Little Sparrow has more to hide than a couple of bathrooms. A secret adjoining room reveals a casual barroom, decorated with cushy suede sofas and leather armchairs — yet another reminder that Little Sparrow works to provide for not just the morning people.
The lunch menu is simple, offering a variety of unique sandwiches and salads. I ordered the smoked turkey, fried egg, bacon and ciabatta sandwich while my date for the afternoon — my younger brother — took a chance with the halibut po’boy, old bay aioli, celery salad and ciabatta sandwich. We sipped on their already-famous ginger pear iced tea while we waited, which was a refreshing twist, being that the iced tea wasn’t too sweet and the exotic flavor not too strong. In under 15 minutes, our meals were delivered.
And did they deliver. My sandwich was almost open-faced because it was so packed with various vegetables and meats that the top of my ciabatta wouldn’t close. I took the biggest bite my mouth would allow me and detected a variety of flavors: sweetness from a juicy tomato, the smoky flavor of both the turkey and the bacon and the warm liquid of the ruptured egg yolk. The ciabatta bread was soft; so soft that bits of turkey kept sliding out of the sandwich and into my green salad (a simple side doused in a basic vinaigrette).
I also took a bite of the halibut sandwich and tasted some of the freshest fish I’ve ever had. I appreciated that it was only lightly seasoned so I could experience halibut in its natural glory, and the aioli sauce served as a perfect complement.
My brother and I both finished our sandwiches in a matter of minutes, and though we both loved certain aspects of our respective meals –– me, the rich and runny egg and him, the generous amount of aioli sauce –– we did not love the price. My sandwich was $10 and his was $11, and believe it or not, those were some of the cheapest items on the menu. Though the ingredients are fresh, I’m just not sure that the size of the meal is worth the money. We are starving, broke college students, after all.
Nevertheless, we did enjoy our iced teas and splurged for a couple of drip coffees. Not to fear, coffee lovers, for you’re in safe hands here; Little Sparrow uses the rich blend from Kean Coffee and along with the option of having it hot or iced, they offer free refills (thank goodness for that last one).
When we got up to leave, the whole staff bid us farewell and our waitress seemed genuine when she said “please, please come back here, okay?” I myself was a little sad to leave the happy atmosphere and go back to the real world.
Though this isn’t the place for a student looking to save a little money, it is a charming one — so charming that I believe I can sacrifice a few more hours of sleep to try their brunch the next time around.