A taste of TAPs
But the experience was decidedly pleasurable, and evoking a memory at first just out of reach. The patty was smashed with a nice sear, the bun like a cozy potato pillow. The combined coalition of condiments—mayo, ketchup, mustard, and a chopped up mix of griddled onion, pickle and cheese—included most of my favorites.I added some spicy sauce to augment the heat only hinted at by the sriracha pickle, which is included in the tasty beef-delivery package.
Then it hit me: the experience was reminiscent of my first In-N-Out burger, an experience enjoyed years ago, and long before gourmet burgers knocked the Double-Double off of my personal list of favorite hamburgers.
But another memory was lingering just out of reach… ah yes, there it is. The burger is called the Royale with Cheese! Surely, someone has already thought to “tap” into the hilarious-for-its-era scene from Pulp Fiction by naming a burger in honor of it. But it was the first I’ve seen on a menu:
VINCENT: You know what they call a Quarter Pounder with Cheese in Paris?
JULES: They don’t call it a Quarter Pounder with Cheese?
VINCENT: No, man, they got the metric system there, they wouldn’t know what a Quarter Pounder is.
JULES: What’d they call it?
VINCENT: They call it Royale with Cheese.
I’m not saying every moment at Joe Manzella’s huge new brewery and tasting room will bring to mind classic literature and film experiences. But it’s definitely the most impressive brewery in the Irvine area.
See what I did there? The Irvine “area.” That’s because the street address of the 19,000-square-foot facility is technically in Tustin. And I generally restrict myself to writing about restaurants within the Irvine city limits.
But every rule should have exceptions. The TAPS brewery is on Red Hill, about a mile from the Irvine border. It’s within the historic sphere of influence of the Irvine Business Complex. It’s across from Orange County Rescue Mission and Irvine Valley College’s new Advanced Technology and Education Park (ATEP) campus.
The TAPS Brewery & Barrel Room is a short drive from the magnificent TAPs Fish House & Brewery, one of Irvine’s best restaurant experiences that opened in the Marketplace in 2015.
The new location is the beer production facility for the three TAPs restaurants (the others are in Brea and Corona). Manzella and his brewmasters plan to brew 5,000 barrels this year, with a goal of 25,000 in the future.
TAPS beers are critically acclaimed, having scored some 97 competition medals since 2001, including six or so prestigious Great American Beer Festival awards in recent years.
Beers on tap rotate, but often include favorites like Irish Red, Flex IPA, Amend This!, Keller Pils, The Velvet Hog, West Coast Pilsner, Hefeweizen, Ponderosa Pale, Hopsteppa, and barrel-aged Silent Warrior. The beer is available to take out as well as drink in. Twelve-ounce bottles are available in six-packs and by the case, as are 32-oz “crowlers” and 64-oz stainless steel, refillable insulated growlers.
I don’t love that bartenders tend to ignore you if you’re standing at the bar hoping to order, making the point that they’d rather have you wait in a designated line at one side of the bar. It’s even marked with a sign, which I believe is my right as an American to ignore. If I’m standing at the bar, it means “please bring me a drink,” and I’ll gladly pay for it and tip you in return.
The ambience in the large space is inviting, making excellent use of the industrial warehouse space. There are vintage pinball machines and video games, and sports on TV. On the outdoor patio, there are plenty of tables as well as the opportunity to play the oddly popular cornhole game.
A few unique aspects of the place: the food is ordered from an electronic kiosk inside and prepared in a food truck parked outside, then brought to your table.
The procedure was mildly confusing at first—you choose a tap handle with a number first and enter the number in while ordering the food—but it’s gotten simpler with experience.
Beyond the burger, the menu includes an imaginative and diverse take on a variety of bar foods, including a bacon-wrapped bánh mi hot dog, the electric taco and bulgogi beef masa fries that are particularly popular.
And the always-important kids menu is reasonable at $5.99 for the choice of a cheeseburger, hot dog or grilled cheese sandwich.
So sure, TAPS Brewery and Barrel Room is technically in Tustin. But we’ll claim it as our own.