Taps Doesnt Blow

In the rockin' new heart of Downtown Brea—where “downtown” means a carbon copy of the Block at Orange, complete with glaring neon, Old Navy, big movie theaters and theme restaurants, but with real streets intersecting them—the Taps Fish House and Brewery has evolved into the culinary and party center of this night-time, North County playground.

True to its name, Taps is a beer hall stuffed inside a high-ceilinged, brick building designed to make you think it was picked up from an old New Orleans warehouse district and dropped on the corner of Imperial Highway and Brea Boulevard. Brewmaster Victor Novak, my pick for the No. 1 beer maker in OC, pours an outrageous selection of ales, lagers, pilseners and stouts that will make you swear off Coors Light to the point where you'll only touch the Silver Bullet if it keeps you from dying of dehydration.

'Nuff said about the beer. Lost among the beer drinkin', live music and general partyin' one enjoys/endures at Taps, the place is a restaurant, and for a brewpub, a mighty fine one at that.

And a pretty exhaustive one, too. Upon glancing at their menu, my first thought was, “Man, they must have a pretty big kitchen.”

Well, they do, and Taps serves up a bucket-load of appetizers, soups, salads, sandwiches, pizzas, pastas, steaks, chops and seafood, as well as a slew of specialties ranging from sake-marinated Patagonia toothfish (a.k.a. the heinously overfished Chilean seabass, which you shouldn't eat) to Hunan-style baby back ribs. And let's not get talking about the fresh oyster bar. I drank an entire glass of the cream ale just while deciding what to order.

I won't waste space on Taps' salads, pizzas and pastas because that's not what you should be eating here. But you might be interested in their ethnic swing through the swamps of Louisiana, starting with their Bourbon Street appetizer platter of Cajun popcorn shrimp, swampfire chicken wings, and crab and artichoke dips. I've not seen any of these on Bourbon Street, but it's the thought that counts, I guess.

More traditional Cajun/Creole fare is the stew-like gumbo, a po' boy with andouille sausage, fried shrimp or blackened catfish, and a mushy jambalaya. As you'd guess, all three go great with Novak's beers.

Me, I tend to go for big meaty game at a brewpub restaurant. But since Taps is a fish house, I figured I had to go with a seafood dish. While the menu listed a number of fresh, daily offerings, the sautéed Maine scallops caught my eye. (Flown in fresh daily! it is advertised.) For $22.95, I figured I could feast on a mess of these scallops, but lo, only four appeared on my plate. Granted, they were huge mothers, tender and delicious and sautéed in a garlic-butter sauce. But I expected at least five, you know? Fresh tomatoes and baby artichokes Provençal (i.e. breaded) nicely filled the plate. And the finely whipped mashed potatoes were excellent. But then there was the mushroom bread pudding, a side served with many entrées.

The thing was shaped like a muffin and jam-packed with mushrooms. Now, I like shrouds as an accouterment, like on a pizza, but this was overkill. I nearly spit up the gooey blob. It was the most inedible thing I've eaten since a goat testicle at a Little Saigon restaurant. But if you really like mushrooms, you might like this. The goat testicle is another story altogether.

My dining companion opted for the double-thick-cut pork chop, which took about a half-hour to cook. I like that, especially considering how delicate a thick cut of pork can be—and it provides more beer drinking time! This was God's pork chop—juicy, tender and with a slightly smoky flavor; the roasted-apple Dijon defilade added a nice tang. The chop came with those excellent mashed tats and crisp asparagus, but my companion wisely substituted the mushroom muffin for a side of the rich creamed corn.

After the mushroom mishap, I need to cleanse the palate, so I closed the evening with a devilish glass of oatmeal stout. My companion went one better, getting the cask ale, a thick, creamy British-style ale with no carbonation that made Guinness stout taste like Red Wolf.

We finished our dessert beers and stood up to leave. Meanwhile, in the bar area, a live band began to tinker with their instruments, and a stream of young folk who looked like rejects from a Commie Girl column dribbled onto the floor. Obviously, the party was getting started.

Taps Fish House and Brewery, located at 101 E. Imperial Hwy., Brea, is open Sun.-Thurs., 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m.; Fri.-Sat., 11:30 a.m.-11 p.m. (714) 257-0101. Full bar. Dinner for two, $40, food only. All major credit cards accepted.

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