A new generation of grocery stores has been growing for years, adding coffee counters, juice bars and corner tables to eat your deli sandwich.
Whole Foods Market Irvine elevates this experience to a new level with “The Irv.”
The Irv is an honest-to-goodness sit-down restaurant that serves steaks and house cocktails involving things like organic whiskey, ginger liqueur and muddled herbs.
Big-screen TVs hang over the bar, which touts two dozen craft beers on tap, volume turned down unless there is a big game on.
The afternoon I was at The Irv, soccer was on one TV and basketball was on another, but ’80s pop played over the speakers.
The vibe is warm and modern, with shiplap walls, lots of natural light from a giant picture window behind the bar (affording a view of the palm trees outside) and bicycles dangling from the ceiling. There’s a mix of booths and high-top communal tables, plus some patio tables if you prefer to eat outside under an arbor.
The place was pretty packed when I stopped by. A woman sat at the bar (a butcher-block slab) working her way through a sushi roll. (The Irv menu has a sushi section that includes vegan sushi creations). Others noshed on sandwiches and salads and sipped beers, some pecking away at laptops.
The bartender guessed about half the clientele are people who stop in for a drink or a bite to give them sustenance (or a more relaxed frame of mind) for the shopping trip ahead. The other half are people who come strictly for The Irv experience.
The prices are clearly one draw. Where else in Irvine, or anywhere for that matter, can you get a Cilantro Martini for $7? (And knock a dollar off that if you show up during Happy Hour between 3 and 6 p.m.)
The Irv’s extensive wine list, which ranges from $7 to $18 a glass, is $2 off during Happy Hour. And so is beer. The two dozen beers on tap rotate but always include porters and stouts, ales and ciders.
The menu is small but appealing to meat eaters and non-meat eaters alike, with items that range from a $15 New York steak and fries to $9 Cauliflower Nachos and Tempeh Bakin’.
You also are welcome to shop for your dinner in the store and then grab a table at The Irv to eat it there. This is the only Whole Foods in Irvine, so you will find items, particularly items that are organic or “humanely raised.” In fact, Whole Foods refers to its suppliers as “artisans — custom butchers, scratch bakers, and certified cheese mongers … local farmers and producers.”
The bartender had one word of warning: It can be tough to find a seat on a Friday night. And keep in mind, last call is 9 p.m.
Whole Foods Market Irvine is at Los Olivos Marketplace, 8525 Irvine Center Drive