The Soul of Costa Mesa

By Kevin Brent

Andy Christson sits in what could loosely be called the “lounge” of Memphis, his Tuesday lunch crowd bearing down on shellfish jambalaya and pulled pork sandwiches and catfish po-boys and other things soul.

“I get a lot of customers from the South coming in here expecting authentic soul food, and that’s not really what we do,” Andy, co-owner of the multi-hip Memphis offers between glances at his bustling clientele. “We put a twist on the whole notion, and people seem to be pleased.”

A classic understatement for an establishment known as much for its exquisite fare as for its weekend underground nightscene. Featuring what is being termed “The Bristol Sessions” on Friday nights, resident dj Danny Love (who is also the featured dj at The Galaxy Theater’s monthly “Club Rubber”) can be found mixing beats within the confines of the 50’s, Eames-inspired decor, the passing scent of fresh cornbread and zuni frybread filling the room. “It’s a good crowd for the most part.” Andy confidently pronounces.

On Saturdays, live music takes center stage (actually, just a significant portion of the main inside dining room) where just about anything can be found, from multiple pieced jazz collectives to the latest in sonic emo-core acts.

It’s a combination that has lured both the business set and the uber-hip to Memphis. All of which add up well for Andy and his two partners, Dan Bradley and head chef Diego Velasco.

This group met in 1995 while working at the Renaissance Cafe. Dan found the Costa Mesa site and spent a year and a half working on the landlord, who finally broke down and gave them the chance. “The restaurant now is busier than we ever thought it would be. We imagined a good thing happening here, but what has evolved really surpassed our expectations.”

In February or March of 2001, the new phase of Memphis will take form — a full-fledged Santa Ana restaurant. “That will be the big budget type of venture. This is the cafe. But that will be the restaurant.”

His voice is calm, his tone level, barely rising above the clanking of silverware and the din of conversations. But inside, it’s easy to sense his swelling excitement. His Memphis Cafe is deeply rooted in Orange County’s turf. And a larger seed is set to blossom.