Three things hit home at TAPS Fish House & Brewery in Brea: #1 is their award winning beer that makes its presence known as soon as you cross the threshold. #2 is the calm sound of a well-oiled machine operating in a dining room where every table has been occupied since 10:00 a.m. - it’s now 1:00 p.m. and tables are still being turned efficiently and without the staff showing signs of discontent. And, #3 is the commanding space that does not feel cavernous in the least bit even though it’s filled with all kinds of people having a great time – eating, drinking, talking, perusing the expansive food selection and ultimately enjoying each others company on a beautiful Sunday afternoon.
Granted, maybe everyone is not aware of the stacked oak barrels to the right of the hostess stand, but they, and the gleaming brewing tanks plainly visible through the glass enclosure, caught my eye immediately. A magnetic field drew me toward the barrels for closer examination. And, as if fate had a hand in it, I discovered that they were the barrels of world-renowned Pappy Van Winkle bourbon. Having attended a Pappy Van Winkle bourbon pairing dinner in Louisville, KY in October, I knew that getting your hands on their barrels (new white oak barrels are used once in bourbon production) was no small feat and that the beer – TAPS Imperial Russian Stout – is bound to be an exquisitely complex, award winning beer in itself.
I had the pleasure of attending last year’s TAPS Spring Beer Dinner and, knowing that award-winning brewmaster Victor Novak is orchestrating every fine detail of this new addition to the TAPS line, leaves no doubt in my mind that this Imperial Russian Stout is a winner in the making. Novak joined TAPS in July, 1999 and was featured in a glowing spread in a 2012 issue of Chilled magazine praising his pursuit of excellence which has led to many accolades in the past few years, among them: Winner of the Wine Spectator Award of Excellence in 2012 and TAPS Fish House & Brewery voted 2010 & 2011 #1 Brewpub and #1 Brewmaster in the nation at The Great American Beer Festival.
Dining again at TAPS, this time to check out their popular Sunday Brunch, was another delightful dining experience. Plus, we had a chance to talk to Chef Manny Gonzales personally and witness the creative energy that goes into the eclectic, multi-cultural dishes that keep customers coming back to TAPS time after time. For $35.99 a person (including choice of champagne or one of their award winning beers) the brunch is a veritable feast for the senses with an abundance of selections that include standard brunch favorites to TAPS Big Easy specialties like Louisiana Shrimp, Chicken and Andouille Sausage Jambalaya and a free-flowing chocolate fountain that reigns supreme at the dessert bar.
Start out with waffles, pancakes, or omelets made to order – an order of beignets took me down Mardi Gras memory lane; then take a leisurely stroll down seafood lane for oysters, shrimp, smoked salmon, snow crab, calamari and assorted sushi rolls. Take it slow and easy because you still have the warm and cold salad bar, carving station of prime rib, pork belly, and sausage, and a mile of chafing dishes with everything from eggs benedict to to salmon with pesto sauce. End your feast or, what the heck – if you want to make sure you don’t get too full to indulge – begin your experience with strawberries dipped in the mountain of gurgling chocolate goodness, any of the other scrumptious treats that satisfy your sweet tooth, or order the amazing bananas foster (tip: ask for a waffle bananas foster!)
My secret to not over-indulging too badly at a Sunday Brunch of this magnitude is portion control balanced with equal amounts of fresh fruits and veggies and taking a long walk afterwards even though that couch is looking real inviting TAPS brunch selections include a stir fry station and a nice selection of fruit, salads, and vegetables, including roasted beets and brussels sprouts.
Bloody Mary aficionados must try TAPS infamous hot-to-trot Bloody Mary with a beer back! As you can see, it’s practically a meal in itself that almost requires a wide-angle lens.
I have to emphasize #3 again: TAPS decor is an interesting combination of European beer hall and New Orleans charm and I’m struck by how well I can hear and actually engage in conversation in such a voluminous room filled with chatter. Loud, bustling restaurants in built-out former industrial spaces are common these days, but it is disconcerting (to me anyway) when mere words shared between two people requires vocal calisthenics and where, if the food is good, you give in to bad acoustics and merely nod and smile at each other across the table while savoring each bite and uttering sounds of content to express satisfaction to yourself.
Now that you know what a fantastic brunch TAPS offers, your interest and appetite might be heightened enough to trek up to Brea and see what Chef Manny has devised for Orange County Restaurant Week – naturally, his Latin roots shine in his amazing dishes and, I don’t know about you, but that Oxtail Pozole, Duck Mole Poblano and Root Beer Float with a Ding Dong are calling my name!
101 East Imperial Highway
Brea, CA 92821
And I’ll keep you posted on the release of that Russian Imperial Stout!