Fried Chicken, Steak & Original Cocktails In Orange County
Anyone who tells you that you can’t eat Southern in Southern California – which is usually me, quite frankly – should go to Memphis Soul Cafe & Bar in Costa Mesa.
I’m not talking the Southern side dishes that are so rare out here, staples like pork & beans, cole slaw and especially hush puppies. Let’s talk for a moment about fried chicken.
And mashed potatoes.
Fried chicken is as Southern as college football and August heat. It’s comprised of a crunchy and spicy crust and white-as-snow meat that’s moist, not dry. It’s a delicate balance and Memphis Cafe nails it. Absolutely nails it.
The crust is perfect; it compliments the chicken so you actually get both tastes in one bite rather than focusing on one part of the chicken and then the other (it’s also served without the bones so you don’t have to worry about that messy aftermath so often associated with this meal). The meat is not just moist but juicy, incredibly juicy. It’s served with a fork but heck, you eat fried chicken with your fingers. And the fingers don’t get greasy with this fried chicken.
It was so good I wanted to down it all as quickly as I could eat it yet at the same time slow down and savor every bite.
That’s a nice food dilemma.
True Southern fried chicken is also served with mashed potatoes and gravy and to a true Southerner, this is no afterthought. It’s not an afterthought at Memphis Cafe, either. The mashed potatoes are so thick – appropriately thick – they stick to the fork until you lick the fork clean. With the added bonus of the gravy clinging to the potatoes the way Southern humidity sticks to your clothes.
That’s just the way it should be, of course. On the menu it’s the Buttermilk Fried Chicken ($17.95).
A few restaurants in Los Angeles serve fried chicken, tho most of these are of the gourmet trendy version. Fried chicken is not trendy – it’s fried chicken.
Memphis Cafe – located in the neighborhood of the John Wayne airport on Bristol St. – has been around since the mid-90s, so that removes it from the trendy category; it has the longevity to move it into the established Orange County restaurants. Known for its brunch (8 a.m,-3 p.m., daily), it should also be recognized as a fantastic place for dinner.
And cocktails (more on that later).
In addition to its won-over-this-Southerner fried chicken, Memphis Cafe also makes a fantastic steak. But it’s not an off-the-grill steak the way you find in the South, made by the big-bellied guy with a backyard grill who tells everyone he ever encounters in that boisterous voice of his that he makes the best steaks in town.
The steak at Memphis Cafe is soft to the touch. So soft, the knife collapses it more than cuts it. A couple of slices with the side of the fork is enough to pull off a bite-sized piece. You don’t even have to chew it; you just let it sit there for a moment and savor the incredible flavor.
Then you go for another bite and get some other spectacular flavor. It’s gorgonzola cheese. Whoa!
It’s served with thin slices of tender potatoes, which also pick up a bit of that cheese. The entire dish is comprised of gorgonzola-potato gratin, sautéed spinach, garlic & roasted mushroom with a red wine reduction.
Memphis Cafe also has excellent spicy “Memphis Meatballs,” a pork dish that’s enhanced with a dark sauce and other items such as a fried green tomato with a lobster salad and it even brings flavor to beets in a salad, no small accomplishment.
But if you really want to feast, go for the fried chicken. And the next time you’re there, order the steak.
After that, feel free to make your way around the menu.
And don’t forget the cocktails. Bartender Phil Greyshock – he refuses to be called a trendy “mixologist” – comes up with creative drinks you won’t find anywhere else, such as the rye-based “Walking On The Moon,” named after a Pink Floyd song.
That adds a nice Southern touch to this touch of the South in Southern California.
Memphis Soul Cafe & Bar Details