It’s been proven that certain colors can increase appetite. Red, for example, can raise blood pressure and heart rate, as well as make you hungry. Beige, at least for me, reminds me to drive the speed limit and put both hands on the steering wheel, especially in Irvine. It’s an age-old cliché, but over the past 30 years I’ve lived and worked in OC (and Irvine for school), I’ve been whoop-whooped at least a handful of times for simply driving a beater late at night.
Luckily, there are a few good happy hours to be explored right off the freeway, and I’ve found Angelina’s Pizzeria Napoletana, with its hip space in the Los Olivos Marketplace near the Irvine Spectrum (of beige), is a happy-hour goldmine: $5 beers, $7 cocktails, and $6-to-$10 bites.
At a Napoletana-style place, pizza is always the place to start. “It all starts with the crust,” explains executive chef Jonah Amodt, as he stands beside one of the eatery’s blazing wood-fired ovens. “We put a lot of love into that dough.”
From the happy-hour menu, I went with the Pizzetta Diavola Bianca ($8), which is essentially a love letter to pepperoni written on a thin dough tablet. Though it lacks red sauce, the piquant and spicy slivers of pepperoni should be in the shape of a pentagram, as they’re so diavol-icious.
The dealbreaker by far is the Polpette al Sugo meatballs ($8 during happy hour), which are a “50/50 blend of Duroc pork and Kobe beef, DOP sauce, burrata, and other ingredients that I can’t divulge,” Amodt says. Start off this dish by spreading the gooey burrata over the sizeable pair of glistening balls, wipe the sweat from your brow, then sink your teeth in.
On the drink side, the $7 old-fashioned during happy hour is a steal, but the real fun at Angelina’s starts with Infusioni (infused craft cocktails). The infusers add extra flavor and aromatics to a few staples. “People always ask two questions about them: one, can I take the infuser home, and two, can I eat the fruit out of it,” notes longtime bartender Mickey Castagna. The answer to both, by the way, is no. For the infused negroni, Castagna uses Aviation gin, Campari and Tenuta Tamburnin Vermut Rouge, infusing it with oranges, rosemary, bay leaf and Luxardo cherries. “We also have clear ice,” he notes.
If you’re craving something a bit boozier, the Little Italy is a replica of the Pegu Club’s Audrey Saunders award-winning drink. Angelina’s uses Knob Creek straight rye at 100 proof, which balances the cocktail more on the hot side of things, pushing the earthy Cynar and complex vermouth to the back seat, which is exactly where you should be after leaving this Irvine gem after drinking one.
Angelina’s Pizzeria Napoletana , 8573 Irvine Center Dr., Irvine, (949) 536-5200; also at 32860 Pacific Coast Hwy., Dana Point, (949) 429-1102; angelinaspizzeria.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 this June!