The retrograde morons who populate the comment sections of the Orange County Register never miss an opportunity to claim that Santa Ana is Little Mexico. Now, we have no problem with that designation--the city's got a Latino-only council, there's a (much-maligned) Consulate of Mexico on Broadway, and as you walk down
Fourth Street La Cuatro, the hawkers are telling you what's available in Spanish--but there's no way this is a Mexican town, not without a mercado.
For years we've driven past the water tower in Santa Ana proclaiming it to be "Downtown Orange County" and snickered. Sure, right, whatever. But a funny thing happened while we were laughing: the crowds in downtown SanTana started to be a lot more diverse. Now, taquerías sit shoulder-to-shoulder to craft cocktail bars; art galleries with jazz music on share buildings with paisa sports bars bumping Bandamax; there's a revitalized theatre, an independent bookstore, a much more diverse dining scene, and many of the accoutrements of a central city, but there's never been a central market. For that matter, Santa Ana doesn't even have a farmers market.
The need is going to be met: the East End Partners, the redevelopers of the area along East Fourth Street formerly called the Fiesta Marketplace
, are planning to change that with a large market space to be built out over next year or so. They're still working out a catchy name for it, but they have time: it's supposed to open in early 2014.
The idea is to have a dozen small-scale restaurants that in a Mexican mercado would be called fondas, as well as coffee, beer, and wine. There will be kitchens for smaller-scale projects, like incubators for people whose business models are too large for the cottage food law but too small for traditional commercial kitchens; a gluten-free kitchen and a confectionary kitchen.
The market part will emphasize local artisans, including a butcher shop to be run by Michael Puglisi, a whole-animal butcher who moved West from Boston's Butchershop and rose from in-house butcher to sous chef at Bouchon in Beverly Hills. Much of the food for sale will come from the commercial kitchens, and there will be a demo space as well.
It's about time Orange County had its own real market; stay tuned for more updates as details unfold.