Photo by Joy BastNations have gone to war to claim lands with a Mediterranean climate. What more is there to desire than a verdant, ocean-kissed land with temperate weather so that you might discourse outdoors as the ancient Greeks did? Many is the time I've had grand discussions with friends over outdoor meals that have made me reflect, "Here, the planet under my feet, the night air brushing my arm hairs, the stars sharp above: this moment is no different than it was for the ancient Greeks, except maybe they went a little heavy on the arm hair."
No matter how we strive to turn it into a contiguous Wal-Mart, California has the blessing of a Mediterranean climate. It is one of the world's ideal spots for doing things outdoors. Inasmuch as what we usually do is eat, it bears as frequent mention as we can manage that EATING OUTDOORS IS GOOD, and when you find a good place at which to eat outdoors, it should be celebrated because there aren't half enough of them around here.
The patio at Old Town Orange's Filling Station is such a pleasant place to while away a lunch time that it even aces out the interior of the place, which is one of the most bitchen diner-style eateries extant. This isn't one of those "Let's put an Elvis clock on the wall and call it a diner" joints. Rather, it feels like a place that's always been there, from its lightly weathered tile floor to the inviting leather booths.
In truth, the restaurant is only one and a half years old, but owners John Hughes and Hyun-Sook Chung have put much intelligent effort into their evocation of a comfier era. It doesn't hurt that the building was built in 1913 as a gas station (which it remained as until 1969, pumping the Signal and then Richfield brands)—hence the Filling Station name. The service bay is now a dining room, while the diner booths and food-prep area occupy the rest of the building. The walls boast old photos of the location's service-station days.
There is a vintage gas pump on the beam-covered patio, but the petroleum theme is otherwise abandoned for a garden and fountain. With Old Town Orange for the view, the 15 outdoor tables make a splendid place to spend a morning or afternoon. (They're open for dinner on Friday only.)
Indoors or out, the Filling Station's food is just fine. It's not especially fancy fare, not some chef's artistic statement involving a pan-glazed reduction of fig-fed truffle-hound snouts, mystic arugula and braised Aegean arm hair. Rather, the menu is largely standard-issue breakfast and lunch items, distinguished by balanced recipes that highlight the quality and freshness of ingredients.
It's hi-fi food. Instead of being knocked upside the head with a wall-of-sound predominant flavor, you can taste each ingredient in the mix. The oriental chicken salad isn't some sauce-sodden thing but comes with a light rice vinaigrette dressing on its greens, sprouts, mandarin orange slices, etc., and snapping-fresh snow peas. The grilled-chicken caesar salad is equally clean and refreshing.
The chicken burrito and the Filling Station special burger—with bacon, avocado and cheese (sampled sans cheese)—are further examples of how little adornment quality foodstuffs need (the bacon and other breakfast and sandwich meats they use are the pricy Boar's Head brand). And if the Old Towne scramble—a mélange of eggs, sun-dried tomatoes, roasted garlic and mushrooms—is any indication of the other breakfast fare, this is a very good place to wake up in.
The fabulous homemade breads hint at the Filling Station's strongest suit: desserts. Korean-born Hyun-Sook Chung, along with designing most of the meals, is a tremendous baker. I know I've been laying on the dessert superlatives, having recently submitted the cheesecake and baklava at Rosine's for beatification, but, Holy Christ, Chung makes what may be the best apple pie I've ever had. It's a huge, walnut-festooned slice, made with cookie dough and her own caramel topping. And like her other foods, it is marvelously balanced, surprisingly not at all too sweet. Her pumpkin pie is nearly as splendid. But for the want of another stomach, I would also have sampled her already renowned chocolate éclairs, which are the size of a small dog. Wow!
The Filling Station, located at 201 N. Glassell St., Orange, is open Mon.-Thurs., 6:30 a.m.-3:30 p.m.; Fri., 6:30 a.m.-9 p.m.; Sat.-Sun., 7 a.m.-4:30 p.m. (714) 289-9714. No alcohol. Breakfast or lunch for two, $8-$20, food only. Amex, MC and Visa accepted.
Get the Food & Drink Newsletter
Our weekly guide to Orange County dining includes food news and reviews, as well as dining events and interviews with chefs and restaurant owners.