C4 Deli: the Cure for the Common
Santa Ana, CA 92701
In May, the much improved Orange County Register food section published a 10 page spread all about burgers. I read that, and of course I gorged myself on burgers trying to eat at all the top ten spots on their list that I had missed. I still have two more of those burgers to eat, but I took a self imposed sabbatical from my quest. I found myself not enjoying them as much as I knew I should be. Yes, I have had an occasional burger over this summer, but I have been much more into sandwiches lately.
That's why we made a beeline for C4 Deli when we heard that it had opened. C4 comes to us from the same people that brought us one of our favorites, Chapter One, the Modern Local. In fact they are located just a few doors down from Chapter One, on the opposite side of the street in Downtown Santa Ana. We were going to be meeting my cousin Daryl here, who is soon to be off to Chile to begin a new chapter in his life. Hopefully he would be sent off with some great food from C4.
We got to C4 at about six on a very hot day in mid September. They still were not done tweaking the restaurant during our visit. They were getting the new air conditioning unit installed the next day, the menu had a lot of, "coming soon" items on it, and work still needed to be done on the promised 20 seat patio. The vibe here kind of reminded me of the painting by Edward Hopper, "Nighthawks". See those two semesters of art history at Fullerton College really paid off for me (okay I had to look up the artist, but still). Much like the painting, we sat at the long counter. The interior here featured a very nice high ceiling, very small booths, marble counter tops, and exposed brick walls. They are going for a kind of art deco kind of feel to the place, and I would say they are on their way to achieving that goal. Just like I was on my way to achieving my goal of trying out the food at C4. Let's see how everything turned out for us.
Before our sandwiches came out, they brought us over some samples of their salads for us to try. These are not like any deli salads you find in other places. The Hearts of Palm Salad ($3.99) was pretty solid. White beans, avocado, peas, goat cheese, and red wine vinaigrette made up this salad. I'm not usually partial to goat cheese, but this salad had a wonderful complex flavor. It had a little tang from the vinaigrette, a nice smoothness from the avocado, and a savoriness from the beans. All of these worked very well together. The Chickpea Salad ($2.99) was a little simpler, but delicious nonetheless. Here the chickpeas are joined by roasted garlic, red onion, olive oil, red peppers, and lemon and lime zest. The predominate flavors that I got with this salad were from the garlic and the earthiness from the chickpeas. Chickpeas are popping up on lots of menus around, and chefs are using them in a lot of different ways. I kind of like this trend.
Sandwich time, and we'll start with Katie's choice, the Muffuletta ($8.99). C4 bring this classic New Orleans sandwich to us in OC. All the traditional components of a muffuletta are here, the salami, mortadella, capicola, olive salad, and substituting for the usual provolone is Emmentaler cheese. Katie thought this sandwich was amazing. She liked the freshness of the sandwich, all the ingredients worked well with each other, and she has not stopped thinking about this sandwich since we left C4. She will definitely be back to have this sandwich.
My cousin Daryl quickly selected the Italian Sandwich ($6.50) for his dinner. This sandwich combined a cavalcade of items onto the bread; salami, capicola, mortadella, lettuce, tomato, Swiss cheese, chili oil, and red wine vinegar. It is very apparent that the meats here are sliced fresh and are of a higher quality than most other delis serve. My cousin seemed very pleased with this sandwich. I tried it, and really liked the dressing used on this sandwich. The chili oil provided a little pop, while the red wine vinegar provided some moisture and tang. The bread at C4 is made by the great OC Baking Company, which is helmed by the talented Dean Kim. You can always count on great bread when Dean is involved, and this was definitely the case at C4.
I could not decide between two sandwiches, so of course I got both. My first sandwich was this Porchetta ($8.99). I knew I would be consuming this sandwich when I saw a picture of the porchetta on their Facebook page. After you are done reading this review, you have to get over to their Facebook page and have a look at the porchetta yourself. You will not be able to resist it. They make this pork everyday, and they have sold out of it almost everyday as well. Joining the pork on this sandwich was a citrus tinged broccoli rabe and an aioli. The pork was as advertised, it was great. I could eat a lot of this. The broccoli rabe was not a good match for this sandwich though. I thought it overpowered with too much bitterness. I also would have liked a little more aioli on this sandwich. A good sandwich that can be made great with just a few tweaks.
My other sandwich would be the Reuben ($11.99). This sandwich was endorsed by one of my favorite OC food writers, Gustavo Arellano, from OC Weekly. It did not disappoint. At C4 they use 100 percent natural, antibiotic and hormone free beef. This pastrami was spiced perfectly, and you could taste the difference with this natural beef. The sauerkraut used here did not overpower, but I was still aware of its presence. My only small complaints about this sandwich was that the marbled rye bread could have been toasted, and a little more Russian dressing could have been used on this sandwich. If you haven't figured it out yet, I really do like using extra condiments on sandwiches.
We are not done with the sides at C4 yet. We each ordered one to try. The hit of this trio was definitely the Lentils with Chorizo and Pork Belly ($6.99). I have said it many times, and I will probably say it until the day I die, if you see pork belly on a menu, order it, because you will not regret it. This was definitely the case here. The lentils provided a nice base for the chorizo and well cooked pork belly. I was a little bummed when my cousin wanted to take our remaining portion of this home with him, but I know I will be back, and it was a nice parting gift for his trip to Chile. The Pickled Pasta Salad ($2.99) was a little different from regular pasta salad. This one was oil and vinegar based, with corn, pickle, green and red peppers added. It was a little on the boring side for me. The Heirloom Potato Salad ($4.99) had a little wrinkle to it as well. It was mustard and aioli based, with chives added. I really liked this potato salad, the dressing did not overwhelm, the flavor was nice and mellow, and the little potatoes were cooked to a very nice tender texture.
For our first visit, C4 sure did impress us. I usually like to give new restaurants at least six months to a year to get in a good rhythm, but I was so excited to come to C4, I could not wait. I have a feeling that they will only get better. They have started offering breakfast items recently, along with a happy hour and late night menu. I am looking forward to trying their sausage sandwich, fresh baked cookies, and house made pickles on my next visit here. I have also expressed my interest to the management and the powers that be at C4, that I would really appreciate their take on a Cuban sandwich. I think they can make one that would be amazing. If you love the sandwiches at Subway and Quiznos, C4 is not going to be the deli for you. If you appreciate a good sandwich, like quality ingredients, and don't mind paying a little more for it, C4 is definitely worth a trip for you. Glad they came around to help satisfy my needs for a great sandwich, while I was on my burger sabbatical.
Out of five bombs, (because of course C4 is a type of plastic explosive, and also because these sandwiches are the bomb), five being best to zero being worst, C4 Deli gets 3.5 bombs.
For more information about C4 Deli: The Cure for the Common, go to their website here: http://www.c4deli.com/