I last reviewed Rachel Klemek’s Blackmarket Bakery in 2008, when it was in its infancy. I got lost trying to find it. I was told it occupied a small office space, tucked away in an anonymous Irvine industrial park. But there was no sign, and iPhones at the time weren’t equipped with GPS. Then, just as I was about to give up, I saw it: a Scion emblazoned on all sides with Blackmarket Bakery’s trademark “cake UFO” motif. I’d seen it zipping around OC before, but now—parked out front—it was acting as a big red X marking the spot. The car was Blackmarket’s signpost to the world that there was, indeed, a made-from-scratch bakery by a Culinary Institute of America alum back here among the Dunder Mifflins.
When I went inside, there was barely any room to turn around, and at regular intervals, the roar of landing planes bound for John Wayne Airport rattled the windows. But Klemek stocked the cramped space full of brownies, scones and cookies, and in the back, I saw her in an apron teaching baking classes.
Cut to eight years later. Klemek has built her brand to become arguably OC’s most beloved homegrown bakery. Blackmarket Bakery is a respected fixture at farmers’ markets, and her two retail locations (in Costa Mesa and Santa Ana) have now become landmarks in and of themselves. The Santa Ana store, inside the Santora Building, is the newest and the one with the most potential. As you walk in, you immediately notice the bar counter with beer taps in front of antique wooden stools and ancient wrought iron. You see a banquette of seats to the right and a small merchandise section that’s still a work in progress compared to the Costa Mesa location. Already, there are packaged shortbreads, bags of meringues and hipster chocolate bars.
But let’s face it: You’re not going to Blackmarket Bakery to buy overpriced chocolate. You go for the sandwiches—and maybe a chocolate hazelnut twist for dessert. Most people come during breakfast, with everyone trying to make the 11 a.m. cut-off time to put in their order for Klemek’s Eggy Wiches. Though it may be her version of a drive-thru breakfast sandwich, fast-food McMuffins these are not. In fact, an order for an Eggy Wich can take as long as 15 minutes to prepare. Eggs are cracked to order onto Waring sandwich presses that double as short-order griddles. And when cheese needs to be melted onto bread, Blackmarket’s kitchen staff employ their professional rotating bread ovens to do it.
The effort is worth it. My favorite Blackmarket breakfast sandwich right now is the Bandera: two fried eggs crammed inside a pillow-soft brioche with pepper jack, cotija cheese, crumbled chorizo, warmed green chiles and just the right amount of pickled red onions. It’s the kind of breakfast sandwich that, for once, didn’t require the Tabasco or Sriracha I typically drown my Egg McMuffins in.
The most substantial Eggy Wich Blackmarket makes is the Southern Comfort. Because of its popularity, the morning I ordered it, the kitchen ran out of the buttermilk biscuit with which it’s supposed to come. Instead, crackle-crusted slices of sourdough were substituted, probably cutting the calorie count by half. Either way—with its excess of housemade gravy and a honking sausage patty as thick as a Counter Burger—it’s not intended to be eaten with your hands.
For lunch, Klemek’s crew uses the Waring for its intended purpose. When I ordered the Gobbler—a griddled monstrosity of bacon, turkey, Brie, apples, plumped cranberries and basil mayo under the Dutch Crunch bread—I watched as my sandwich assembler piled slice after slice of apple onto an already-teetering stack of fillings. That’s never going to hold, I thought. But I was wrong. The finished sandwich was nothing short of a miracle, with everything inside of it fused into a harmonious mass. If it’s not the best turkey sandwich in OC, it’s certainly the best sandwich at Blackmarket. That’s not to say that the other turkey-based sandwiches, such as the Members Only and the Phoenix, aren’t good—but it’s the Gobbler you want. Or if you’re vegetarian, you can’t go wrong with any of the grilled cheeses made with the seeded sourdough, a rustic loaf textured as though a bran muffin.
When you are ready for dessert, order a sundae, with one of Blackmarket’s cookies acting as a base to ice cream and scorched marshmallows. At least one sundae is sprinkled with bacon. The Santa Ana location also offers a “bar bites” menu that includes meatballs and mac and cheese you can nibble along with beer on weekend evenings—something I never would’ve imagined eight years ago in that Irvine office park. Then again, even Steve Jobs had to start in a garage.
Blackmarket Bakery, 211 N. Broadway, Santa Ana, (714) 571-0801; blackmarketbakery.com. Open Mon.-Thurs., 8 a.m.-7 p.m.; Fri.-Sat., 8 a.m.-9 p.m.; Sun., 8 a.m.-4 p.m. Sandwiches, $5.35-$9.75. Beer and wine.