Notes from a Neighbor
Café Chiarini

The name “Chiarini” was associated with high–quality workmanship long before George Sr. and his sons George and Richard decided to move their operations from Brooklyn, New York to Santa Ana in 1978. Richard was given the task of finding a new location, and he discovered a site in the Santa Ana Station District within the first industrial park ever established in Orange County. Chiarini Marble & Stone became an increasingly successful full–service provider of marble and stone throughout Orange County. Their reputation soon spread up and down the coast of California and as far as the Pacific Northwest.

In the 1990’s when an arts movement began in Santa Ana, the Chiarini brothers designed a breathtaking Italian courtyard fountain to serve as a centerpiece for the new 10–block urban arts district in Santa Ana called “The Artists Village.” The fountain is dedicated to George Chiarini Sr., myself Don Cribb, founder of the Village, and the artists whose contributions helped bring a creative spirit of relevance, energy and optimism to the future of downtown Santa Ana.

Over the years, Richard and George also took an interest in acquiring other Santa Ana properties, including those that could help support the growth of the arts in Santa Ana. One property was a four–unit complex called “The West Village.” There, Bohemian units were given high–quality accents that created individualized artist housing opportunities. The Chiarinis have also developed innovative living and work space “Art House” properties that cater to post–graduate and emerging artists, and they have purchased and redesigned North Santa Ana residential properties. They acquired a 1919 two–story property at 3rd and Olive and began using it as a “gallery” to showcase material applications such as bathrooms, fireplaces and staircase treatments. As they hosted special events at the site, which included a brick patio plaza, custom slate–shrouded pizza oven, dripping fountains and plants such as an olive tree, it soon became clear how appropriate the site was for an eatery.

Café Chiarini opened at the site two months ago with the same attention to taste, dedication and detail represented in all Chiarini projects. Set inside a two–story, ivy–covered brick structure in the West Village west of the Artist’s Village at 3rd and Olive directly behind County buildings, the location is quite a surprise! A large wooden door is located on 3rd and opens to polished stone floors, metal frame windows, Greek cotton curtains and hand–troweled Venetian plaster interior walls.

Pulled pork is prepared fresh daily at Café Chiarini, and the tri–tip sandwich is fast becoming famous. The artisan breads are marvelous creations, as beautiful for their shape and color as for their texture and flavor–with crispy–edged crusts and chewy interiors. The yogurt parfait has a light honey flavor with fresh–made granola, unusually light and crisp. The summer salad contains strawberries, walnuts and goat cheese in a light tumble of leafy lettuce and blueberries. Flavored iced teas and fresh lemonade stand by in shapely glass decanters, and enclosed cases feature special fresh–baked items like chocolate chip cookies and bubble buns–chewy and mouth–watering!

The staff is ever–friendly with a Euro–Italian–Greek style. Judy Fleener, a partner, is the magic and soul of the kitchen, overseeing all menu and cooked items, and Iliana Chiarini, George’s wife, is also a partner and brings her lively personality and style to every facet of the food service–from kitchen to patio.

Not unlike some European cafes tucked into stone–walled courtyards with potted flowers and dripping fountains, Café Chiarini has “Old World” charm. Every café should make guests feel so welcome!

Published in the Sep/Oct 2011 edition of the Old Towne Orange Plaza Review

Written by Don Cribb, Photograph by Jeanine Hill

Don Cribb served on the Santa Ana planning commission for eight years, is currently sitting on the Environmental and Transportation Advisory Committee and is the President of the Santa Ana Council of Arts & Culture.


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