What kind of name is Playground? It’s a hip corner bar like none other downtown Tucson with an accessible roof top, sexy patio, has its own parking lot (a seductive plus), the widest TV screen on the planet, and a vast high ceiling interior with swings hanging from the ceiling. Aha! That’s the playground connection. Swings, seen at playgrounds, with strong chain links like retro swings from my past not the flimsy swing sets in backyards.
Another thing I didn’t know about Playground — creative food is served that actually raises the bar on bar food.
Last week I had the pleasure along with Rita Connelly (Well-Fed Foodie) and Edie Jarolim (Freud’s Butcher) to go to Playground and sit down with restaurateur Kade Mislinski as he explained his concept for the food and the venue.
A word about Kade: He talks fast. I tried to take notes but gave up. He’s super enthusiastic bursting with energetic conversation and why shouldn’t he be? He has a mini empire on Congress Street what with The Hub and the Playground and Lulu’s Shake Shoppe and there’s more to come but my lips are sealed. You can’t walk down Congress without seeing dozens of smiling people eating ice cream from The Hub.
What we shared:
Chicken & French Toast ($8) – This is a spin on the ever so popular chicken & waffles. Think crunchy chicken tenders with Hub wing sauce and batter-wrapped French toast sticks with maple syrup (pictured above). Comfort food melds well with a cocktail or two.
Meatballs ($7) – Mama Mia! These great balls of Double Check Ranch grass-fed beef were covered in a creamy mushroom sauce. Extremely comforting…
Shishito ($7.5) – Flash-fried Japanese peppers were served with a dipping sauce and sea salts. I love Shishito peppers for their spicy crunch. To me, they are like Japanese poblano chilies but have their own addiction.
Shrimp Po Boy ($11) – Cornmeal incrusted shrimp, lettuce, remoulade sauce on baguette…this could easily be a satisfying lunch, came with big pieces of shrimp too and spiced just right, served with Zapp’s chips.
Ma’Ono Sliders ($6) – Here’s something you don’t see every day but I have a gut feeling it will catch on – Spam sliders. It was more flavorful than I would ever anticipate and came with avocado, Tapatio aioli, shredded cabbage, and lemon (served with chips). Other slider choices were grass-fed beef and for non-carnivores – falafel.
Grilled Kale Salad ($10) – Mixed greens, bacon, goat cheese, beets, candied nuts, balsamic vinaigrette; so much healthy deliciousness.
I know that sounds like a lot of food but it was research. The menu has something for everyone including hearty entrees ($9-12) like fried chicken, fish, crispy marinated tofu, the blue plate special, and something called Loco Moco – cheesy grits, rice, grass-fed beef, eggs, and gravy.
The menu reflects Mid Pacific/California. There are classics like wings but served with Ponzu sauce and pretzel blocks with house made cheese sauce. On a return visit, I hanker to try the watermelon & jalapeno salad ($10) with arugula, feta, cucumber, mint, and jalapeno vinaigrette; cool and zesty on a hot summer day.
With Playground being a bar, we had our share of cocktails…bottled cocktails made in house on the premises served in what resembled beer bottles. And they were super – yes, using straws, we tasted a variety.
Since I’m a fan of grapefruit, I ordered the Maximilian I – El Jimador silver tequila, sparkling grapefruit, tamarind soda, Pimm’s, Aquavit – it was bracing and boozy – just like me.
I’m pretty sure Rita ordered Broken Flowers – Ketel One Vodka, sparkling jasmine & orchid green tea, lemonade – and it probably was my favorite as it was refreshing and so sip-worthy.
The only drink I didn’t like was Nerf Herder because I’m not much of a whiskey gal and Nerf used Wetter whiskey, orange blossom, and brown sugar syrup.
Not all the cocktails are pre-bottled, some are stirred, shaken, or otherwise like the Juicy Juice (Circo vodka, grape juice, and pop rocks) as well as some classics or classics with a twist, shake, rattle, and roll. Cocktails ($6-$8).
The Playground blends playfulness on the menu with its ingredients plus fun events like roof top concerts, movie nights, happy hour, date nights, spelling bees, and more. There’s even food delivery a la bicycle if you can’t get out of the office at lunch time or want some food delivered if you have to work late.