if you thought santa ana was the armpit of o.c., think again. jason quinn, one of the chefs from the lime truck (the winner of the great food truck race), opened a contemporary gastropub in the historic district of santa ana: the playground, calling all foodies and ipa addicts.
since this is a gastropub (albeit the contemporary tapas), let me talk about beer, i mean some good selection from breweries indigenous to the state of california (with guest bottles from elsewhere). let me tell you what, i am still fairly new to californian micro-brews and the playground served as an excellent (to say the least) intro to the world of california ipa’s.
for those unfamiliar to what ipa or india pale ales are, here’s my take on the brit’s brew. surprisingly i came across many people who thought, due its ambiguous name, that the brewing style originated from india. contrary to belief, and while india is partially associated, the brewing method originated in england in the late 1700s.
india pale ale is a derivative of a pale ale that was brewed to be shipped to british soldiers stationed in…well, india. to withstand the long journey (since shipping it on c-130s wasn’t an option), ipa’s were essentially more malty and well-hopped than its pale ale counterpart (hops served as natural preservatives). as taxation on alcohol got stricter by the decade, ipa that we enjoy today are much more diluted than what the original one offered (8-9% abv). but i have the monks in belgian abbeys to cover for that end of the spectrum.
because of its well-hopped character, i was led to believe that ipa’s belonged to a much colder part of the country, but maybe that’s because i was introduced to the world of beer initially in the great mitten state (read: michigan). now as i think of it, michiganders enjoyed more stouts, porters, and bocks than they did ipa’s. so it was interesting to see a list of ipa’s on the market in california with a number of breweries touting their version as the best. turns out, ipa’s are indeed the go-to drink in the golden state (like the golden pour of ipa’s!).
the proprietor offers an impressive list of bottled ales and a handful of micro-brews on tap, some of which i had never seen. the ales were marked up more than what i expected and drafts were no exception, but $5 for a pint didn’t seem so exorbitant. on the plus side, the playground offered free sips of the mirco-brews on tap before you settle on one!
i give credit to this for the excellent service, and the passion for beer and food. the menu was organized in vegetables, small meat, and large meat. we decided to go for the small plates first, so we ordered hand cut fries, chinese long beans, and roasted beet fattoush. with it we also ordered a beautiful chunk of wagyu (it is wrong to say wagyu beef because wagyu (和牛) already means ‘japanese beef’!).
everything that we ordered was excellent. heck, everything on the rotating menu is probably just as excellent! every bite was a bite of heaven…of celestial bliss (cue chorus). with ordinary dishes, the guys at the playground made it truly extraordinary. what makes this place my fave o.c. gastropub is the fact that there is no corkage charge! so we opened a bottle of sangiovese that i’ve been enjoying lately.
fittingly enough, there were santa ana cops roaming on police mules in the historic district. the police officers kindly posed for me as i was clicking away drunk. oh i forgot to mention, my absolute favorite of the night was the union jack ipa from firestone walker brewing co. if you haven’t tried this, make sure to try it before you die.
union jack india pale ale
firestone walker brewing co., california
american ipa, 7.50% abv
so we ordered too much beer (if there’s such thing) and not much grubs to go with. our obvious choice? why pig tails of course. the only time i had pig tails was at the animal on fairfax in l.a. the one at the playground was even better. the jalapeño crema just nailed every single corner of my tongue.
just as we were sipping the last mouthful of the sangiovese, jason quinn came up to our table asking how everything was. what was i to do but to flatter him of his work? i told him how his pig tails were prepared much better that they were at the animal. he thanked me, saying that he also loves the pig tails at the animal. flattery done right.
he also told me that they do sunday brunches with portola baristas pouring espresso. it now made sense why nicholas, a barista at portola, recommended me to check this place out. next: sunday brunch at the playground.
220 e 4th st
santa ana, ca 92701
– samples for taps on rotation
– ingenious menu!
– sans corkage!
– bottles a bit pricey
– no love for deutschland?
verdict: gastropub meets contemporary. o.c.’s micro-brew assembly!