Sunday, December 06, 2009

Memphis at The Santora - Santa Ana

Ah, Memphis' buttermilk fried chicken! Here is a dish so unbelievably great, Gustavo Arellano once proclaimed during a lunch meeting at the restaurant, "I can't have that anymore. It's too good!"

I had it again recently and I did then and still do agree that it is too good, except I order it any and every chance I get.

This, ladies and gents, is the way fried chicken should be. There is no bucket, no mascot, and the bird comes practically deboned.

But if you think that it's some frou-frou deconstruction of a classic, you'd be wrong. Memphis' fried chicken plate might just make a displaced Southerner weep from his meemaw. What you get is a meal as traditional as it is gigantic. A study of balance and excess, it starts with a flattened, boneless breast covered with a shimmering, crispy, flaky, golden chainmail of breading -- what I consider the "original" original recipe.

About the only bone you'll encounter is in the wing drumlet, which is attached as an extra treat to nibble on for dessert. Though there is no dark meat here, every well-cooked molecule of it is moist and juicy. The flavor is slightly tangy from an overnight soak in buttermilk.

Then, beneath the swooping shadow of the golden fried breast, there are the sides that complete the dish: a scoop of rustic mashed potato as starch, a heap of pot-stewed mustard greens as a bitter counterbalance, and a lighter, more refined version of country gravy to slather over everything. And when I say more refined, I mean it. Do not expect the standard caramel-colored glop that tastes like it came from a bouillon cube.

Once I polished off my plate and squeegeed every speck that was left, I longed for another. Like Gustavo said, the dish really is too good.

Memphis at the Santora
(714) 564-1064
201 N Broadway
Santa Ana, CA 92701

Studio at The Montage - Laguna Beach


At 11:27 PM, Blogger Melissa said...

Without a doubt my favorite thing at Memphis. We weren't as big fans of the pulled pork, gumbo, fries or soups, but this chicken... out of this world good, no doubt. And the gravy is also outstanding in its own right.

Great dish to highlight!

At 1:52 AM, Blogger Juliet said...

I like fried chicken on occasion, but I've always just thought of it as a so so thing. This chicken sounds like it's really something special, though.
By the way, it's a good thing my morning sickness only seems to have lasted one day. Otherwise, I might have had to stop reading your blog for awhile. And I like reading your blog. Even if none of the places you write about are local to me, you write so well. You inspire me to go out and get the dishes at places near me that serve them.

At 8:21 AM, Blogger Dennis K. said...

Hi Monster Munching! Pardon my ignorance but is this place related to the Memphis in Costa Mesa? Absolutely love their Southern Fried Chicken! Cheers

At 3:53 PM, Blogger Tastie said...

Dennis, Memphis Cafe in Costa Mesa and Memphis at the Santora in Santa Ana are two of the 3 restaurants in the Memphis Group. (The 3rd being Memphis at the Beach in Manhattan Beach--opened July 2009). And the Fried Chicken is the same.

Gustavo practically lived on our Fried Chicken sandwich (fried chicken breast, bacon, ranch, cheese, on a bun with lettuce and tomato) for a while. It's not on the menu but runs often as a lunch special. The sandwich is also known as El Cobra in honor of its creator. As I've told Gustavo, even if its not on the specials for the day, ask for it and we'll do our best to make one for you.

At 4:02 PM, Blogger EatTravelEat said...

That photo is so tantalizing. Haven't had real fried chicken in years now! I am feeling like I am eating it as I write with your elaborate commentary :).

Sounds like the Studio at The Montage is simply fabulous with its service! Always like restaurants that do something that you do not expect them to do.

At 4:33 PM, Blogger dumplings said...

I only get my share of the southern fried chicken when I go to North Carolina every August. I will definitely check out this place.

At 4:51 PM, Blogger The OC Gazette said...

This looks amazing! We'll definitely be heading up to Santa Ana this week to try it out!

At 11:38 AM, Anonymous Orlando personal injury lawyer said...

My goodness that plate looks like the best thing ever.

At 1:06 PM, Blogger Ben Dayhoe said...

Pretty much any chicken dish at Memphis is a guaranteed home run.

Another great review :)

At 11:15 PM, Blogger elmomonster said...


Their best dish! And oh! I forgot that the gravy has andouille sausage. God I want this right now.


Thanks Juliet, as always, for your kind comments. And also, thank you for always sticking with me! Eventhough you are thousands of miles away! And pregnant with morning sickness!


Yes, as David said (not sure how he's affliated with Memphis), it's all related. Except what David didn't mention was that the Memphis in Costa Mesa uses collard greens while the other two uses mustard greens. Chicken's pretty much the same is the gravy! OH THAT GRAVY!


Thanks for the comment. And that sounds like a mighty fine sandwich, but I stray not from the fried chicken plate!


Studio was wonderful. I can't say enough about the service. I wished that I arrived earlier to see the sunset though. That would've made a perfect evening even more so. Can't wait to hear about your trip there. WiNk!


I was once in South Carolina (Greenville) and had a similar dish there. I think they were pretty much on par with each other!

OC Gazette,

The Costa Mesa store also has it! But with collard greens (at least the time I had it there). Santora is a much nicer environment though.

Orlando lawyer,

It is! For fried chicken!

Ben Dayhoe,

So: "They do chicken right!"? Does anyone even remember that used to be the KFC slogan?

At 4:52 PM, Blogger dumplings said...


I just visited this place last night. Besides sitting across from a table of 15 screaming kids, the chicken did meet my expectations. The thing that almost made me turn to their seasonal entrees was the $16 price tag on the chicken.

And their side dishes were amazing with the BBQ platter.

At 1:46 AM, Blogger elmomonster said...


I'm glad you liked it! Though I do agree that it is getting more and more expensive these days. The price slightly less during lunch, but I think they give you potato pancakes instead of the mashed potatoes, which doesn't work in quite the same way for me.


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