Eating at The Irv
The IRV? Really?
We know it’s meant to be shorthand for our fine city, or perhaps the store’s Irvine Blvd. address, but it sounds like how an old guy named Irving would refer to himself in the third person. “Believe me, sonny, The Irv broke a few hearts in his day.”
When the Fashion Island Whole Foods debuted back in 2012, it included a cool craft beer and food spot called Back Bay Tavern—now that’s a decent name. It was the first such restaurant-in-a-Whole Foods we tried. Now, pretty much all of them have the dine-in, full service restaurant option. But while we’re stuck with the name The Irv, Tustin’s relatively new Whole Foods restaurant is fittingly called The Hangar (the store at the Irvine-adjacent center The District also includes a Mendocino Farms option), downtown L.A.’s is the Eight Bar, and even Laguna Niguel gets a cool-sounding spot called the Rock-It Bar.
I guess the name doesn’t really matter; we’ve never heard anyone refer to the place as The Irv. It’s always just “let’s meet at the bar at Whole Foods.”
What a great meeting place it is. Until Irvine gets one of its own, Whole Foods serves as they city’s hipster-ific dining hall scene, with numerous culinary options available.
There’s a fairly large bar area with sports on TV, along with high table with stools and regular tables on the other side of a divider with the restaurants signature bicycle wheel symbol.
Craft beer lovers enjoy the selection from 24 taps featuring the best of local, regional and national brewers. The bartenders are friendly and knowledgeable, and can make a fine tasting artisan cocktail, too—including several that feature produce, muddled and juiced and mixed with often-organic liquor choices.
Those eating in can order from a server, sit at the bar and order from the bartender, or order at the end of the bar fast-casual style and then find a seat and wait for the dishes to be delivered.
And most of them are as good as any hearty and healthy gastropub fare in the area. There are small plates, salads, flatbreads, sushi rolls, nightly specials, a $5 kids menu and main dish entrees.
Healthy eaters can select from some 16 vegetarian items on the menu, including cauliflower nachos, plant bowls with blackened tofu, quinoa and cucumber (you can add meat and fish if you’d like), a nice no-meat burger called The Beast and vegetarian rolls, like the moderately spicy Firecracker Roll.
But it’s not just a green scene. The Pub Burger is a moderately sized and juicy bit of deliciousness, made all the better with the bacon jam it’s served with. It’s $12 most days, but on Thursdays you can get it (or the vegan option) paired with a draft beer for only $13.
On Taco Tuesday, the meat-lovers go-to option is the Taco Share Plate, a nice serving of smoked green chile pork shoulder (or jack fruit for veggies), tortillas, guacamole and a pitcher of Mexican beer, all for $15.
The place is pretty packed for Happy Hour from 4-6 p.m., with $6 select glasses of wine and $5 beer and a small selection of small plates, including that green chile pulled pork.
The entire bar area fills up at weekday lunch, with both real diners who order something from the menu or the bar, and tip accordingly, as well as far too many uncouth, grab-and-go interlopers who seemingly lack even the most rudimentary knowledge of basic bar etiquette.
Let me illustrate my irritation with an example. I have no problem pulling up a bar stool and ordering lunch for one, despite what my copy of “Never Eat Alone: and Other Secrets of Success” says.
While over in the Spectrum area recently, I popped into Whole Foods, found a comfortable spot at the bar, and ordered a burger and a beer. What can I say—it was Friday. I arrived early, so the bar and adjacent restaurant area was empty.
Soon I began to notice patrons bringing in their purchases from the huge variety of to-go options in the store. There are tables inside and outside where those folks can sit, but it does get busy so I have no problem with them taking up space in the restaurant. Or sitting at the bar, for that matter—as long as they order something from the person tending that special space, and tip for the service. Which many of them don’t, I’m sorry to report.
I asked the bar keeper about it, and he admitted that it’s an issue, but that since he works for Whole Foods and the folks are spending money with his employer, there’s not much he can say about the grab-and-go customers taking up seats in the bar. Though they did have to draw the line at people bringing in food from other restaurants in the center, trying to sit at the bar and ordering nothing.
As the restaurant began to fill up, I slid over a couple of stools to make space. Eventually a nondescript fellow sat down next to me at the bar and began unwrapping a sad little salad. He looked at my burger and now second beer, smirked and mumbled something superior to himself. I let it pass.
Then he asked the bartender for an ice water, and was directed toward the self-serve water source at the other end of the bar. “Or you can get it for me,” the customer said, sotto voce, as the bartender walked away.
Which is when I let loose, just a little, on the fellow, explaining the fundamentals of proper bar behavior, including the economics of our service economy and the lost opportunity costs of him taking up a revenue-producing space at the bartender’s place of business.
He quivered a bit, the way quivery folks do when caught in bad behavior. “Thanks for ruining my lunch,” he said, as he packed up and moved to a more appropriate seating area.
As for me, I finished my beer, left a big tip, and ordered an Uber to take me to my next Irvine adventure.