Anne Marie Panoringan
Voice of OC’s food columnist — reporting on industry news, current events and trends. Panoringan’s prior work includes writing for eight years at OC Weekly in which she interviewed over 330 industry professionals for her weekly “On the Line” column. She has been recognized by the Orange County Press Club and she also is a recurring guest on AM 830’s SoCal Restaurant Show. In 2022, Anne Marie was a judge for the James Beard Awards.
Recently, Yelp came out with its Top 100 Restaurants in the U.S. and Santa Ana was the humble recipient of two spots: Trust (#18) and OmG Omakase by Gino (#44). This got me thinking about the city in general and how much it’s evolved in the past decade.
Home to my favorite distillery, Blinking Owl, and previous Michelin Bib Gourmand honoree, Mix Mix (now closed), Santa Ana’s food and beverage scene has faced the tensions that come along with gentrifying a neighborhood, combined with the recent construction of a streetcar system and its effects on long-standing businesses. Setting these issues aside, the changeover of older brick-and-mortars with ones curated for the updated surroundings means new interest by residents and locals in these cultural neighborhoods. I researched a few of the newer destinations to learn more about what makes them special.
Club 616 – Restoring Glory
I was invited by my friend Corky to grab a drink at the new bar in town after having dinner at the 4th Street Market. Knowing her, it wouldn’t be just any bar or beverage menu. We found ourselves at cocktail lounge Club 616. The bar possesses a full liquor license but during our visit, the drink selections we sought out at 616 were from its temperance – or zero-proof – section.
Somewhere between the tasty non-Bloody Mary, diverse clientele and marveling at the gorgeous interior design, I knew there would be a compelling story behind how the space came to be. That’s when Corky introduced me to Mike Berault, co-owner of Club 616. He and partner Jason Lilly purchased the 100-plus-year-old property from Don Thomas Bautista in February 2020.
“It had a crumbling foundation, terrible plumbing and electrical plus an almost fully burnt through header beam held together by 2-by-6 (foot) boards,” Berault said. They kept some roof timbers and a pool table, but everything else in the structure was replaced. Built in 1915, it began housing businesses during Prohibition when Harbor Grape (a place to purchase everything one needed to make one’s own beer and wine) was established in 1928 at 616 4th Street. Lilly and Berault speculate the business doubled as a speakeasy.
Paying respect to the history and previous owners of the building, Club 616 dedicated cocktails after each of them. In addition to Harbor Grape Company (a gin and rum concoction), one can request a whiskey-alternative with bitters Kennedy Malt Shop (a 1932 luncheonette), a blanco tequila plus grapefruit Minnie May Wild (the owner in 1934, and also the granddaughter of Santa Ana’s founder, Edwin E. Wild) and a rum with whiskey plus passion fruit Demetriou (the family who owned it from 1945 to 2000). A man by the name of Edward Zirinsky permitted exterior signage in 1937, whom Lilly and Berault believe operated Zirinsky’s Club 616 at the time. “We decided to restore the sign to its original 1937 glory,” Berault said.
Honoring the bar’s colorful history, the partners envisioned what Berault would refer to as the Golden Smog Era: A time in Los Angeles between 1968-1972 where you could find a guy in a three-button suit drinking next to a Hells Angel or car club guy. “The bar would represent a part of the landscape forever behind a backdrop of golden pink smog,” he said. Designer Shawna Tice took that vision and wove into it a softer, feminine vibe that was still very much in line with the partner’s ideas. From paint to fixtures to wallpaper (check out the stalls in the ladies room), Tice seamlessly tied the concept together.
The liquor license for this upscale dive bar was so old, it doesn’t require food to be served. To feed the masses, the club has rotating pop-ups on the back patio showcasing a variety of cuisines. The night we stopped in, Los Tacones was serving Baja-style tacos, seafood nachos and other specialties. From our open seating area adjacent to the pool table, I had a clear view of the pop-up, and spent a good portion of our visit debating a second dinner just to try them out (but ultimately focused on my nightcap).
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Wanting the bar to have quality cocktails, the partners consulted with Ash Nalbandyan, who has been linked to local spots including Strong Water, Trader Sam’s and Stowaway. Nalbandyan came up with an eclectic beverage menu and trained the staff to execute it in time for the club’s launch. Head bartender Andrew Winters took over duties after the club opened, overseeing an evolving menu of signature cocktails alongside takes on traditional classics. A temperance menu features alternative whiskey, tequila and rum. “Whether it be dry January or Lent or just the option to not consume alcohol, we feel that Club 616 is ultimately where our clients want to go to be seen, feel welcome and be given some sense of belonging,” Berault said.
A professional musician since the age of 16, Berault started in a band called My Superhero. Currently, he’s a part of Bite Me Bambi, an Orange County ska punk band with former members of Save Ferris, Suburban Legends and Karate in the Garage. While he’s held other professions, Berault believes it’s a young man’s dream to open his own bar. “Then life happens and other responsibilities take over, other priorities take precedence, people lose touch and move on,” he said. On Club 616’s opening night he saw a group of friends from all walks of life (both Lilly’s and his own) co-mingling. Berault believes in a subconscious way that he and Lilly wanted to create a place where all their friends could gather together. 616 4th St.
Roquette Cafe & Bistro – Serving Breakfast and Beyond
Located on the first level of an office complex near the intersection of MacArthur Boulevard and Main Street, Roquette’s chef Samuel Geffroy launched the cozy space late last year. When he’s not prepping dough for fresh pastries or working on the menu, one can find him checking in with every table. “My goal with Roquette Cafe and Bistro is to bring affordable French and European food to the Santa Ana and Orange County community with a lovely ambiance and neighborhood feel. Nothing makes me happier than bringing smiles to the faces of people eating my food,” Geffroy said.
I’d been following the cafe on social media for months, waiting for a time when I could drop in for breakfast (Roquette is open mornings and afternoons, with dinners currently only on Saturdays). It turns out Geffroy is as much of an a.m. burrito buff as myself; I opted for Roquette’s turkey sausage version with avocado and chipotle aioli (a vegan version containing tofu, spinach, black beans, avocado, mushrooms, etc. is for my next visit). The weather was agreeable that morning, so I took advantage of the bistro’s charming patio with cushioned seating and wall planters adorned with rows of succulents.
Weekday breakfast service is extended through lunch on weekends, perfect for late risers seeking eggy sustenance. My breakfast burrito was less about packing a tortilla with lots of potato and greasy goodness (note: I love those kinds, too), and more about focusing on the fluffiness of the egg scramble and smoky sauce incorporated throughout. I was actually taken aback during my initial bites by this realization, but quickly concluded that it could hold its own against a couple of places down the street. It was a pleasant change of pace from what I’m accustomed to.
Roquette’s Saturday dinner offering has begun picking up momentum. I grabbed a copy of the prix fixe menu and made a mental note of the reasonably priced trio of courses. Geffroy takes the time to change up the selections for each weekend service. Wine, beer and bubbles are available to imbibe with one’s dinner. Since seating is limited, reservations are required to guarantee a table. Note: Parking validation is available for the structure behind Roquette as well as the lot across from it. 201 Sandpointe Ave., Suite 150, Santa Ana
Hammer Burger – Moving On Up
According to founder Kevin Hammons, after the success of Hammer’s initial pop-ups in 2020, the goal was always to eventually move into a brick-and-mortar. “We thought the truck would be a great stepping stone because it allowed us to slowly expand and gauge the demand for our food on a larger scale,” he said. The team knew they wanted to serve beer at their future restaurant, so they specifically sought out breweries to serve the craft beer drinking crowd – both a calculated and thoughtful move on Hammer’s part. Since the food truck’s inception, its demand and popularity has continued to grow, so it was logical to move forward with its goal and acquire the former Munchie’s Diner location.
When asked about the cost of operating a food truck, Hammond elaborated on the costs associated with renting one, including the commissary where it needs to be parked. Gas and time required (because time is money) to drive back and forth from appointments adds up. He reminded me of the unexpected maintenance issues associated with steering a luxe lonchera that also contribute to lost time such as the generator, which sometimes becomes fussy. “While it is still a lot more expensive to operate a restaurant than a truck overall, having a permanent location will allow us to expand our hours and menu, which will increase sales, too,” Hammons said.
The future Hammer Burger will possess a beer and wine license with a dozen taps of local craft brews; it’ll also offer canned wine, beer and seltzer. On the food side, expect a few more versions of its signature smash burger, plus chicken sandos, salads and additional sides, which I haven’t tried yet. The truck’s final stops before temporarily pausing operations to focus on its dedicated storefront had extra busy lines when I tried stopping by last weekend, so a formal visit will have to wait. The guesstimated opening is this spring. 313 N. Bush St., Santa Ana
4th Street Market (4SM) Updates
This Downtown Santa Ana food hall continues to evolve with a focus on up-and-coming incubator concepts, one of which is a collaboration between Chef Han (a.k.a. Brian Kim of sushi purveyor ShariNori) and Oscar Gonzalez (from chicken brand The Golden Eatery) named Mix N’ Bowl Co. Proud to be bringing two different cultures to the table through a variety of dishes, Gonzalez’s idea for Mix N’ Bowl had been on his mind for a long time. “When one of the spaces at 4SM became available, it felt right to move forward with Chef Han, who suggested putting a Korean twist on the menu. He is so hard-working and skilled in the kitchen, and I look forward to growing and doing things together in the future,” Gonzalez said.
Featuring Latin and Asian cuisine, Mix N’ Bowl serves contemporary burritos alongside colorful rice bowls. We polished off a filling bulgogi (BBQ beef) bowl during a recent preview and look forward to trying out additional items. Follow Mix N’ Bowl Co. on social media for updates.
In other market news, Electric City Butcher plans to depart its storefront on Saturday, Feb. 25. However, online shopping will still be an option. Founder Michael Puglisi is proud to have helped responsible farmers and ranchers gain greater access to Southern California dinner plates. “We’ve encouraged other butchers to take the leap into this profession, shared what we know and had fun with our guests in more than 100 classes and events, and provided amazing meats and foods for almost a decade,” Puglisi said in a recent post.
Per partner Steve Sabicer, Graze and Gather Meats (their sister shop in Claremont) carries all the products Electric City has. 201 E. 4th St., Santa Ana
Coffee Muse – Change of Address
Next door to 4SM is a new retail establishment known as Collective 2one9 where local artists use the space to sell clothing, crafts, snacks and other giftables. It also houses the relocation of Coffee Muse from its former storefront a block away. Teas, espresso drinks and pour-overs of small batch coffee are the specialities of the house, but be sure to check the pastry case for a sweet treat. My steaming cafe de olla was perfect for the brisk winter weather. 219 E. 4th St., Santa Ana
Anne Marie Panoringan is the food columnist for Arts & Culture at Voice of OC. She can be reached at email@example.com.
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