Artists Village in Downtown Santa Ana houses many culinary hot spots amidst various art galleries and boutiques.
Nestled inconspicuously on the corner of Broadway Street is Chapter One: the modern local, a little gastropub that presents itself as a hub of locally sourced ingredients and global flavors.
The restaurant sports a couple cozy booths throughout and a spacious bar area on the other end of the venue.
The décor is pretty on par with any other restaurant of this genre – dimly lit and trendy wooden furniture that looks like it’s been up-cycled from thrift store finds.
If you’ve ever been to the Lab or the Camp, you’ll know what I mean. It’s a laid-back environment and is not an overly pretentious Instagram trap (I’m looking at you Anaheim Packing House).
The reputation of the drinks of this particular venture required some assistance, so I enlisted the help of a couple other people.
Chapter One boasts its Moscow Mule as one of Orange County’s best. For those unfamiliar with a Moscow Mule, it typically comprises of ginger beer, vodka and lime juice.
Chapter One’s version of this classic consists of home-brewed ginger beer, Svedka vodka, lime juice and the piece de resistance, elderflower liqueur.
Generally, three of the four patrons in our group found it to be very strong. The vodka was very obvious and lingered in our mouths long after the drink was over and done with. However, all four agreed that this drink, as strong as it was, was very well balanced. All the ingredients were very equally represented in the flavor of the drink. It was still very flavorful and not drowning under an ocean of vodka.
The ginger beer itself is worthy of some recognition.
For those who love the burn of ginger, Chapter One’s homebrewed ginger beer is sure to satisfy. I ordered one on its own, out of curiosity. It is not overly fizzy, but still has an adequate warming quality to suffice even the most avid of ginger fans.
For drink number two, we asked a very friendly waiter on suggestions for some fruity drinks.
He recommended the Rosa Sinensis, which is a sangria that strays a little from the normal recipe and adds a couple tropical twists such as hibiscus syrup and pineapple juice.
I was skeptical about the additions, fearing that it would taste less like sangria and more like Malibu, but they weren’t overpowering at all. It was a really pleasantly fruit-flavored drink without being too sweet. The floral notes of the hibiscus were refreshing and subtle. As the ice melted, it muddled the concoction down into something that was reminiscent of a Capri Sun (if Capri Suns were alcoholic, that is). That’s not a bad thing if you’re a huge fan of this childhood favorite. What I’m not a huge fan of is beer, but this gastropub has found a way to make me look somewhat more favorably upon this beverage.
Every Thursday, Chapter One has a burger and beer deal. Order a burger and get any of their craft drafts for, gasp, twenty-five cents!
The Blanche de Bruxelles was better than I could expect from a beer. It wasn’t very hoppy and had a nice, almost citrus aftertaste.
Let’s talk about this burger, though. The Harvest Burger is made from chuck and brisket cuts, blanketed in Havarti cheese, drizzled with rosemary aioli, covered in arugula and served with a side of their signature duck fat fries and an apple-onion jam.
Now take a moment to mop up the small puddle of drool accumulating under your chin. If a patty could melt in your mouth, I’m sure this patty would do it.
The accompanying duck fat fries were sublime and they weren’t seasoned to death by a million herbs and spices. They were simple with a touch of flavoring that didn’t steal the spotlight from the burger.
The apple-onion jam was surprising. It sounds awful on paper, but it’s more like a sweet ketchup. This dish was a winner across the board.
That being said, the other two dishes were less than expected. Along with the burger, we ordered the calamari and the Portobello Napoleon.
The calamari came with a lemongrass curry sauce and was served on a bed of scallions, tomatoes and leafy greens. It looked fantastic, but the squid was overcooked although the breading was salty perfection. The Portobello Napoleon was a grilled Portobello mushroom sitting atop roasted kale and a risotto cake with spinach truffle sauce. In theory, this should have all been delicious together, but I found myself only liking certain elements. For example, I really liked the risotto cake and the mushroom, but for whatever reason found it too much together. Maybe it was the marinade of the mushroom that didn’t quite set off the flavor of the risotto.
The bottom line is to go for the drinks and that amazing burger and beer deal, but proceed with caution for some of the entrees.
I will be going back, however, only because the White Cheddar Mac ’n’ Cheese topped with panko crumbs has been haunting my dreams.