Scientifically speaking, there are two types of people: those who go bonkers at the OC Fair and those who don’t necessarily miss it when it’s gone. Though I enjoy the odd collections, deep-fried nouns and epic people-watching, if I’m not going to a concert at the Pacific Amphitheatre, I generally skip the whole thing. But then how do I get adrenaline-pumping bites paired with some really great drinks?
You can throw a dart at a map of Orange County and see where it takes you, but you’ll damn near hit a bull’s-eye at the historic Orange Plaza.
Stop one is sort of obvious: Haven Craft Kitchen + Bar, where chef Craig Brady masterfully creates treats for adventurous people. You’ll start thinking eating a crispy pig-head terrine sounds like a dare, but by the third bite, you might consider ordering a second serving, as the fried crust yields to a steamy, candy-like, braised-pork filling. Dredge the bite in caramelized-apple purée and/or the dollop of whole-grain-mustard aioli, then balance things out with some watercress. Pair it all with an ultra-refreshing Summertime Killer cocktail, a sort of tiki riff on a whiskey sour. The lemon-rosemary garnish is what attracted me and ended up being something I’ll go back for time and time again. 190 S. Glassell St., Orange, (714) 221-0680; www.havencraftkitchen.com.
Stop two is Buttermilk Fried Chicken. I haven’t had chef Ryan Adams’ fried chicken since his Sunday-night, family-style dinners at 370 Common in Laguna, but it’s safe to say his new fast-casual spot is a must-stop on the chicken trail. The crust is thick and crunchy, and when breached, there’s a perfect ratio of coating to steamy chicken. Being summer, the side of choice is undoubtedly watermelon, which is tossed in a cup with goat cheese and basil. To drink, if sweet tea isn’t your jam, pick from a few local craft beers on tap; I went with Bang Straw by Gunwhale Ales, a lower ABV table beer with enough carbonation to cleanse your palate from bite to bite. 238 W. Chapman Ave., Ste. 100, Orange, (714) 941-9124; ; buttermilkfc.com.
Citrus City Grille is stop three. I’m not sure when I first hit the happy hour here, but it was well before the Bruery Provisions was across the street. Wine and cocktails are now the focus after slowly ditching its draft system, but I prefer to sit on the patio with a great old fashioned and a plate of hot dates stuffed with blue cheese and wrapped in bacon. The dish’s citrusy sauce perfectly matches the orange vibes in the old fashioned—so much so, it’s worth eating the Luxardo cherry first and using the appetizer as a garnish. 122 N. Glassell St., Orange, (714) 639-9600; www.citruscitygrille.com.
Greg Nagel has been writing about beer since 2011, is an avid homebrewer of wine, cider, and beer, is a certified Cicerone Beer Server, level 1 WSET in Wine, a podcaster with the Four Brewers Show, and runs a yearly beer festival called Firkfest happening on June 29th in Anaheim!