The kitchen makes a fabulous Reuben at C4, the new deli opened by Jeff Jensen and Jeff Hall, the guys who gave us the equally fabulous Chapter One: The Modern Local across the street in downtown Santa Ana. C4 is ingeniously subtitled “The Cure for the Common,” and the sandwich is the cure for the common Reuben. It features a marbled rye, those two-toned beauties evocative of Shamu or a hot fudge sundae that you rarely see anyone use for sandwiches anymore. More impressive than that: The staff cure their own pastrami. Other sandwiches are stuffed with the house-cured corned beef. Hot dogs and brats are made with responsibly farmed pigs and again, done in-house. This is what makes C4 special and an actual deli, a term too often squandered on places that are really just sandwich shops and assemblers.
And C4 Deli hasn't even reached its full potential yet, with big plans in the final stages. Among them are charcuterie platters, pickled everything, a hot-sauce shop and the deli standard of matzo ball soup, which isn't yet offered, but there's already reserved a spot on the menu with the words “coming soon” where the price would normally be. But the two Jeffs have already taken other steps toward achieving their lofty goals for C4. They've consulted with Dean Kim, OC's most respected baker, to develop in-house baked breads. The wine and beer are curated with the help of Cyrille Hanson, whose family started Hi-Time Wine Cellars in Costa Mesa. But perhaps most telling of their hopes and ambitions for the place are copies of Michael Ruhlman's book on salumi and Fergus Henderson's The Whole Beast—tomes both inspirational and aspirational. Both are for sale on the same precarious shelves on which are arranged chips and bottles of craft beer and wine.
C4, by the way, is housed in a doozy of a room, with a soaring ceiling, Gatsby-esque Art Deco design motifs, exposed brick walls, and a window that stares directly at the equally beautiful Santora building across the street on Broadway. But let's get back to that Reuben. The pastrami is sliced so thin you don't eat this sandwich, but rather breathe it in. So soft and tender is the meat, it disintegrates in your mouth, melting into its characteristic saltiness. Hugging the pile of pinkness is that marble rye, a bread moister than pound cake that sags under the weight of the filling. In the bulging belly of the sandwich, a slather of Russian dressing and Swiss cheese have fully ingratiated themselves to the meat and the ribbons of warmed sauerkraut, with the cabbage retaining its snap and overwhelming the senses until you hit the finish line of the bread's crunchy crust. This is perhaps OC's greatest Reuben since the one at Harry's Deli in Irvine.
But C4 doesn't rest on the laurels of this sandwich alone. There's a pair of pork sandwiches that needs to be tried after the Reuben. The pork-belly sandwich is a ciabatta loaf stuffed with griddle-crisped pieces of fatty pork, sautéed kale and a black pepper-amped sauce that isn't for anyone who can't handle its lovely funkiness. But even discounting everything else in it, the sautéed kale manages to be as intriguing as the sauce and the pork, tasting a bit like Southern collard greens. Then there's the Porchetta, a subtler, sweeter sandwich that uses the same bread, but with just an aioli spread and sautéed broccoli rabe to accompany its own griddle slab of seared fatty pork. Both are great, bold, greasy, crispy and porky—a meal that needs one of the offered cold sides as a ground. The grilled cheese is flawless, but what grilled cheese isn't? This one is made so that the Cheddar and provolone melt and ooze in globs that halt just beyond the edge of the bread. To order one without the tomato soup—a thick, pulpy brew easily mistaken for marinara if there were garlic and basil in it—would be a crime.
The deli has in-house sides, as well. The potato salad is vinegar-based and so light it tastes as if it's not even there. The couscous, the hearts of palm and the chickpea salads have different textures but similar flavor profiles to that of the potato, all of them seasoned with a light hand; they could be called bland if they weren't eaten with one of the sandwiches. And we already named the pickled eggs the best eggs in OC in last week's Best Of issue, so there's that.
Let's talk about the house-made sausages for a moment. The bratwurst is a good rustic link, coarse and humble, pale yet flavor-packed. But perhaps the best sausage is the hot dog, a ruddy meat tube twice the girth of a Ball Park frank but not as loaded with sodium, deserving of a better bun, and so good it can itself be dubbed “the cure for the common wiener.”
Before becoming an award-winning restaurant critic for OC Weekly in 2007, Edwin Goei went by the alias “elmomonster” on his blog Monster Munching, in which he once wrote a whole review in haiku.