Biting into OC Brunch - Little Sparrow

"It's what a restaurant should be - anchored in the community." - Naseem Aflakian, Co-Founder

When the Little Sparrow first took flight in downtown Santa Ana, we heard from the murmurings of the food-lovin' community that it was a restaurant worth peeping at. On the corner of Main St and Third, this restaurant has joined the ranks of other eateries in the area working on reviving the food scene of the city. Vacant for more than 15 years, the building itself was the subject first of Co-Founder Naseem's thesis project as a potential business plan's location. Once that fictional business plan was done with academically, it became the subject of a budding reality for both Naseem and her husband (and other co-founder of Little Sparrow), Bruch Marsh. The restaurant was born to fill a void the couple thought Orange County had; it was inspired by a New York and San Francisco feel with a focus on community building and a design like a French bistro. The name Little Sparrow came from different sources but overall, is another way to symbolize the community Naseem and Bruce want their restaurant to cultivate.

We had heard many times about our friends and their friends flocking to Little Sparrow (and seen plenty of pictures too on social media from their visits!) but it always seemed to be during the daytime. Though for this particular article, we went in to learn about the brunch in the daytime as well, there is also a separate room with a more intimate setting and full bar for the night crowd. The menus are separate as are the drinks available. In fact, Naseem told us that they want their cocktails to rival those of Orange County notoriety such as 320 Main and believe that they are just about at that level; she explained to me, "A good cocktail should be balanced. If it’s bitter or sweet, whatever the components are (it could be all of those things), it has to all come together n the end. It has to be balanced. I think that’s what sets our cocktails apart - the technique and the execution is incredible." We'll have to stop in for the evening crowd one day!

I brought up the cocktails because we saw a good few on their brunch menu - mimosas, Bloody Mary cocktails, champagne cocktails, and a variety of champagnes. There is also their Mimosa Pour Deux ($22 - Bailly Lapierre Brut Reserve, 1/2 bottle with orange juice and two flutes) available as an option. The Bloody Mary we had the chance to try was certainly balanced as it was said to be! One of the specials for the day we arrived was their Doughnuts, made in-house and pleasantly fluffy. Their Biscuits are highly desired and for only $2 for a side of these huge, fluffy, and buttery dough jewels, it is a bargain. These are so good that there is even a customer who buses there on the weekends from Laguna Beach just to buy up whatever's remaining for the day to take back. The secret, shared by their pastry chef, is to freeze butter chunks prior to adding them in to the dough just before baking. I'll have to try that myself! If you're looking for one of Chef Eric Samaniego's favorite dishes to cook and eat, you'll have to go for the Corned Beef Hash, a savory beast of a breakfast dish with a perfectly fried egg on top and a side of seasoned home fries. The meat was tender and a little smokey, just right its texture.

"We’re not pushing boundaries but the food will be executed very well. It’s going to look great; it’s going to taste great. It’s going to be seasonal. Obviously it’s going to be responsible." - Executive Chef Eric Samaniego

Lastly, what is brunch without a little French Toast and Eggs Benedict? The French Toast's thick triangle slices came with their own maple syrup "dipping" sauce, making it easier to sweeten and dampen to one's heart's desire. However, the most popularly talked about dish and Little Sparrow's #1 seller is the Eggs Benedict ($13 - 5:10 eggs, prosciutto, and house English muffin), available in this riff off the original as well as as Eggs Norwegian ($16 - 5:10 eggs, house-cured gravlox, English muffin). These were a little surprising to see at first because the soft-boiled egg was in its normal shell-shape but after Chef Eric explained the style's origin, everything made more sense. It was modeled after the supposed perfect time that eggs should be cooked to achieve soft-boiled status; David Cheng himself developed the techniques. These egg dishes were divine and easily prove the point of their acclaim, especially with the crunch from each grilled biscuit.

All in all, we came away from the interview and tasting with Chef Eric and Naseem with the impression that Little Sparrow is going to do big things for the downtown Santa Ana community. There are plenty of places cropping up that are focused on the lunch and dinner time frames (at least, in terms of what we've seen on their menus) but what about breakfast? Or rather, I should say, traditional breakfast. The brunch menu has just about all of the staples you'd expect but done with a little bit of a finer touch. Find them over at 300 N Main St, Santa Ana, CA 92701 on Saturday and Sunday mornings for a weekend visit.

Photography by Duc Duong. More photos available on Facebook here.

NOTE: This brunch article is a part of a series that we will be running through to April, the month when the full editorial will appear with a multitude of more articles and informational pieces in the Orange County edition of LOCALE Magazine. Make sure to check stands when the issue drops so you can get the full scoop on brunch in OC!

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