Ritter’s boxy glass storefront gives no hint of the olfactory whoosh that overwhelms once the door to this yearling cafe opens. Intense aromas of garlic and the Cajun-Creole holy trinity of onion, celery, and bell pepper startle sinuses and reflexively arouse hunger.
Despite the humble digs, the fare here is as shy as a New Orleans streetwalker. Authentic filé gumbo, fiery jambalaya, fried oyster po’ boys on fresh, crusty bread from Little Saigon’s Au Coeur de Paris bakery—all the Big Easy classics faithfully rendered by jovial chef-partner Mike Ritter. Ritter also brings his enigmatic pan roast to O.C. It’s a Creole concoction of various shellfish bubbling in a rich sauce of cream, tomato, and secret spices, topped with a dome of perfect jasmine rice. It’s so popular that it draws fans of downtown Las Vegas’ Oyster Bar, an insider favorite at Palace Station Hotel & Casino where Ritter worked for 12 years.
Forget the three flat screens and sit at the bar to watch Ritter and crew work their magic in 12 steam-heated steel caldrons that cook the dishes with the gentle intensity of a double boiler. Sweet-smoky-salty bacon-wrapped shrimp are notable appetizers, handily outclassing the fried pickle spears with a heavy cornmeal crust. Menu sleepers include an ubercreamy New England clam chowder, and an enticing side of red beans and rice with andouille sausage.
Bacon-wrapped shrimp, New England clam chowder, fried oyster po’ boy, gumbo, pan roast, red beans and rice.
In The Works
Something to douse the spicy heat: beer and wine.
1421 W. MacArthur Blvd. Santa Ana, 714-850-1380, rittersskc.com
Photograph by Priscilla Iezzi
This article originally appeared in the July 2014 issue.