When you think of pairing a beverage with food, your thoughts probably go more toward wine. The trend in Orange County is to pair craft beers with menu items. A well-crafted beer can have various spice, fruit or roasted notes that enhance the flavors in your dinner and dessert. Here are some places in the county that are doing good things with food and beer pairings.
220 E. 4th St. #102
Santa Ana, CA 92701
Playground has been open eight months and it has already hosted four events where the point is to match good beer with good food. How do these events work? Jason Quinn of Playground said, “We work closely with a number of California breweries and occasionally we will do a tap takeover with those breweries. To try and feature the beers we are excited about, we will do optional tastings where for three dollars, you can get a four- to seven-ounce tasting of a beer that pairs really well with the food. Sometimes the menu item will be created directly with the intention of pairing it with a beer. Sometimes you want to do an unusual pairing to bring out an unanticipated quality of something.”
What makes Chapter One – The Modern Local one of the best places to pair beer with food? It’s the training the staff members receive. For each beer that comes into the place (and it’s an impressive list of both bottled and draft beers), staff members are trained about the style and the characteristics of that particular beer. Jeff Hall of Chapter One said, “When someone comes into the restaurant, we ask if they are more interested in beer or food. If they say beer, we try to steer them toward a food that complements the beer they like.” The training of the staff is apparent when you start to discuss the beers you like.
23730 El Toro Road
Lake Forest, CA 92630
Brü is another newer place with a good beer selection, ranging from a pilsner to a sour ale to a stout. In other words, this restaurant has a beer in just about any style you might seek. That could be why the restaurant was voted “best beer-focused restaurant” by the Orange County Beer Society. The draft beers (20-25 of them) change frequently, but you will always be able to find a good beer to have with your dinner or your dessert. The staff can steer you toward a beer that fits your meal just right. Recommendation: pair the strawberry chipotle cheesecake with the Brother Thelonious Belgian-style Abbey Ale from North Coast Brewing Company.
TAPS Fish House and Brewery
101 E. Imperial Highway
Brea, CA 92821
TAPS Fish House and Brewery is a place that prides itself not only on its beer selection but also on its education about beer. Lee Healy of TAPS said about Brewmaster Victor Novak, “Victor’s training with the staff goes above and beyond training I have seen in a brewery or any restaurant that carries multiple beers. Each employee knows the taste characteristics of every beer we carry and can suggest one to go with almost any food on our menu. It is because of Victor’s expectations of the staff that they are so educated on beer.”
190 S. Glassell St.
Orange, CA 92866
Haven Gastropub provides a unique dining experience. When you look at the menu, you see some things (as well as one of OC’s best burgers) that are pretty common on French menus: onion soup, rabbit fricasee and poussin roti (as well as a lengthy list of bottled and draft beers). If you’re not familiar with dishes like those, it might be hard to pair a beer with it. Haven makes beer and food pairing easy (at least on some selections) by listing the recommended beer next to the menu item.
Related: Best Burgers In Orange County
Gary Schwind is a freelance writer covering all things Orange County. His work can be found on Examiner.com.