Welcome back, Gypsy Den Santa Ana. It was a weird year without you. How I missed your art-filled walls, your creaky thrift store chairs and, most of all, your food — the deli-style sandwiches, salads and soups which kept me coming by on the monthly until they were unceremoniously swapped out for a bunch of sad, wannabe gastropubby dishes last spring.
I missed you so much that I have never smiled harder while ordering a tuna melt than I did earlier this month after discovering your original menu had just-as-sneakily taken back its rightful throne over the tartines and deviled eggs you served all summer (may it forever be remembered as a noble experiment).
I admit, it was hard giving you your space those six months or so while you sorted your shit out. When I first saw the new menu, I tried to accept it, I really tried, but the hipster toast was so badly forced that I sent it back to the kitchen and walked out heavy, like I’d fought with my best friend. All summer, I kept wanting to take lunch meetings there, but what’s the point when there wasn’t any more chicken Waldorf to order, only tall boys of PBR and tater tots. I wanted to come in and use the wifi, check my email for a minute with a glass of Gypsy Juice like old times, but the word “tapas” created a force field that I could not bring myself to penetrate.
Instead, I drove past like a creepy ex and reminisced about days spent sitting at your sun-washed tables, studying or writing while inhaling the tuna salad sandwich of my dreams (seriously, whoever decided to put green apples in the mix should receive a Nobel Prize). I sat across the street and ate sandwiches at C4, staring longingly out the window hoping you’d notice that I was really craving one of yours.
Eventually, I accepted that I no longer had a go-to coffee shop in downtown Santa Ana, no Adobe Stew-inventing bistro to frequent alone, nowhere left to find tolerable vegan chili by the bowlful. I listened to a lot of Drake. I tried to move on.
I’m not even mad that you left. I know you needed some soul searching. After all, when you moved in over a decade ago, you set the bar for downtown SanTana dining at “coffee shop casual.” And now, with your ‘hood more defined by hipster spots like Playground, North Left, Little Sparrow and Lola Gaspar, it’s understandable you’d want to take a sec to re-assess your approach.
But I’m glad that after taking two big steps forward — the liquor license was smart and your new bar area is gorgeous — you’ve finally decided to take one major step back. The ample lunch and dinner crowds seen since the return to your old menu is proof that the food that made you an Orange County staple for years, however basic, is far from a dying fad. So what if you’re now charging a little more and making portions a little less? We will still flock to your thrift-store table settings (and ’90s G-funk soundtracks) for that vegan wrap, those nachos, for a build-your-own soup-and-salad combo.
And through it all — the twists and turns of a restaurant lost then found — you still exude the same effortless cool that made us fall in love in the first place. Those tea and coffee-inspired cocktails made with your own house-infused spirits? They fit your new grown-up attitude perfectly. That overpriced fancy small-plates crap? That was never your style. Now that that’s settled, you can stop worrying about what all the new kids on the block are doing, Gypsy Den. You do you, boo boo. You do you.