Ehrline Karnaga began her working life as a white-collar stiff in the computer industry. But to look at her now is to see a different woman. She traded in her business suit for a flour-covered apron and now deals more with chocolate chips than microchips.
The baking bug bit her early on. She has always loved making cakes; she even ate them for breakfast. So it was with the express purpose of opening a bakery that the Irvine resident went back to school to get a formal culinary education from Orange Coast College.
Newly minted as a chef, she debuted Layer Cake Bakery in Irvine a little more than two years ago. Her sister Liz, whom Ehrline credits as the artist in the family, does the decorating and the marketing. But despite the success of the bakery, the sisters recognized that cakes are something of a special-occasion item. They brainstormed for something to balance out their portfolio, something that would allow Ehrline to use the savory parts of her culinary training.
That something? Sausages—homemade, fresh, non-preservative-laden sausages of different stripes and persuasions, everything from a vegan spicy mango “chikin” to wild boar Balinese to good ol’ bratwurst. And to take diners through a virtual wiener world, they opened Valhalla Table (2981 Bristol St., Costa Mesa, 714-549-2960; www.valhallatable.com) at the Camp in Costa Mesa. The name and place are meant to evoke Norse beer-swigging halls—appropriate because they pour craft brews.
Surreptitiously, the sisters Karnaga slipped in some desserts from the bakery and added a few subtle Indonesian touches to the menu, a nod to the country Ehrline left when she was 14.
1. Go to Little Saigon.
“Vietnamese food is healthy, festive and full of flavor. I especially love the traditional dessert shops because they’re similar to Indonesians’.”
2. Eat Brunch.
The top brunch spot for this chef is Ramos House Cafe. “The Southern-influenced food combined with the rustic outdoor setting is unique. The place is always packed on the weekends, so come early or be ready to wait.” 31752 Los Rios St., San Juan Capistrano, (949) 443-1342; www.ramoshouse.com.
3. Attend Free Concerts.
In the summer, the Great Park hosts “awesome performances from Big Bad Voodoo Daddy and other international groups.” www.ocgp.org.
4. Shop the Farmers’ Markets.
“There’s always one close by every day. I go to Irvine’s on Tuesdays and Saturdays, Tustin’s on Wednesdays, and Costa Mesa’s on Thursdays. Various locations; orange.cfbf.com.
5. Haunt Theaters.
“OC is blessed with great theaters. I love Irvine Barclay Theatre. They have the Preservation Hall jazz company and flamencos in the summer, plus The Nutcracker in the winter.” 4242 Campus Dr., Irvine, (949) 854-4646; www.thebarclay.org.
6. Drink Roast-to-Order Coffee.
Karnaga doesn’t have to travel far to find hers. She simply walks across her shop to Portola Coffee. “I know I’m biased here, but after drinking freshly roasted organic coffee every day from our in-house roaster, Jeff Duggan, others don’t compare.” Inside Layer Cake Bakery, 4250 Barranca Pkwy., Ste. 1, Irvine, (949) 786-0223; www.layercakebakery.com.
7. Enjoy the Outdoors.
Karnaga recommends Fourth of July picnics and concerts at Irvine Meadows. “You can have a picnic on the grassy slope before the concert, then when it gets dark, the concert starts and you can listen to live orchestra while gazing up at the stars. And afterward, there are fireworks to accompany the music. The firework blasts are so close they’re practically in your face.” 8808 Irvine Center Dr., Irvine, (949) 855-8096; www.livenation.com/Irvine-Meadows-Verizon-Wireless-Amphitheater-tickets-Irvine/venue/73757.
8. Take Walks.
Crystal Cove State Park is “such a beautiful place and great for a walk,” she says. 8471 Pacific Coast Hwy., Laguna Beach, (949) 494-3539; www.crystalcovestatepark.com.
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9. Appreciate the Arts.
Every year, Karnaga heads for the Festival of Arts in Laguna Beach. “Amazing art!” 650 Laguna Canyon Rd., Laguna Beach, (949) 494-1145; foapom.com.
10. Savor Arepas.
Particularly those from Mil Jugos in Santa Ana. “I love those freshly made corn cakes filled with meat.” 318 W. Fifth St., Santa Ana, (714) 836-4601.