Brea, Corona, and now Irvine. What do these three locales have in common? Plagued with dreary dining options, all three have received some semblance of salvation with the foothold of TAPS Fishhouse & Brewery.

Outfitted nattily as fine dining restaurants, TAPS’ double personality as also an award-winning brewery clips the wings of formality and beckons with the welcoming warmth of your favorite Barcalounger. Hospitality is underscored twice with their service staff always attentive, but rarely ever a hovering interloper.

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With TAPS in Irvine having just opened a couple of weeks ago, we ventured out to the virtually barren land of concrete tilt-ups to peer into the newly budding landscape.

TAPS’ Sunday Brunch Buffet, both in Brea and Corona, consistently ranks as one of the best in the land and to say that the Irvine location’s first outing was well-received would be an understatement. While there was a solid showing of patrons, the efficient reservation system ensured that it was not an unruly cattle call of all-you-can-eat fiends rushing the seafood display. The flow from food station to carving post to dessert paradise, smooth operator with nary a bottleneck.

We arrived early upon the sage advice of a seasoned brunch buffet veteran. After strategically surveying the course and plotting our plan of attack, we were seated at a spacious booth fronting the pristine, open kitchen. From this vantage point, we witnessed chefs and sous chefs, waitstaff and runners all interacting like fluid machinery, but with the cheery lilt of a quadrille.

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The beautifully designed layout at TAPS’ Sunday Brunch Buffet resembles a micro version of Mario Batali’s Eataly. The regional influences run the gamut of the Louisiana Bayou, American South, Tuscany and everything in between. With so much delectable fare, you’d be hard pressed to decide with which first to pleasure your palate.

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Rather than piling everything into a large, indiscernible mess, compose your plate with a few select items from each specialty section. This way, you avoid filling up prematurely and you’re not that culprit that ends up shunning half his haul. I have to admit, I returned a few times for these tantalizing oysters and the creamy deviled eggs punctuated with crispy bacon.

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The carving depot is always a popular arena and this luscious slice of prime rib with a dollop of mild horseradish is made even more appetizing with the side of vibrant and colorful jardinière. The prime rib has a hint of smoke that will make you salivate just thinking about it.  Please pass the napkin.

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TAPS is big on staying on top of their culinary game. The addition of charcuterie to their repertoire, sliced on-site, evokes a decidedly European flair. Wispy wafers of savory Sopressata, Saucisson, Salumi and the like are showcased next to artisan cheeses of the Oaxacan, Gouda, Brie and Goat Cheese varieties.

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This dessert kingdom is everyone’s favorite hang-out. The dancing chocolate fountains play host to fresh fruit, marshmallows, pretzels, graham crackers and even Rice Krispie treats. The kids typically devour the confections on their skewers long before returning to their tables; empty plates in hand.

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Sweet dreams are made of this and are portioned into pretty, tidy parcels so one can sample a plethora of divine cakes, muffins, lemon bars, cheesecake and creme brûlée without as much guilt. The decadent assortment is enough to rival even the most sumptuous in Las Vegas.

Finishing up the last sip of my bottomless mimosa, I spy proprietor Joe Manzella flitting about the floor, checking on and replenishing chafing dish volumes.

“It’s always a good sign when you see the owner working just as hard, if not harder, alongside his staff,” I whisper to my teenage son and his girlfriend.

They look around and I could tell that they half-expect to see some fancy pants honcho helping to seat a party of four. When instead I direct their gaze to the trenches of the back of the house to someone in a grey Henley shirt; sleeves pushed up; and balancing laden food trays to and fro, they nod duly enlightened.

Manzella (twice lauded as restaurateur of the year) clearly possesses a nose to the grindstone work ethic. Paired with a marketing savvy from his account sales days at Xerox, he’s been running a well-oiled ship ever since the Brea concept was launched over fifteen years ago. The esteemed 40-something sports enthusiast exudes the charm and guile of a celebrity quarterback with several championship rings to his name. Heading five restaurants—TAPS and Lillie’s Q in Brea, The Catch in Anaheim, TAPS in Corona and TAPS in Irvine—Manzella commands a mini-empire of 500 plus employees, with a projected $30 million dollars in annual sales. But success doesn’t come easy, nor does it come quickly.

“The Irvine Company had been courting us to bring TAPS here for over a decade,” says Manzella. “But it’s like the guy trying to hit on this girl. He’s kind of cocky the first few times. He tries and tries, but he just doesn’t get it. Finally he thinks to clean up his act; is more polite; and asks her on a proper date.”

Analogies notwithstanding, with TAPS Irvine already booking up reservations consistently, it appears that Manzella and his team are poised to cultivate yet another destination where the buffaloes once roamed. I can imagine the city of Irvine is already rejoicing.

Make your reservations here or call 714-619-0404. The Sunday Brunch Buffet is $36.99 adults/$12.99 children and includes bottomless champagne/mimosas or two craft beers (for adults).

13390 Jamboree Rd.
Irvine, CA | 92602


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