In the 1990s trilogy “The Mighty Ducks,” movies which chronicled the adventures of a youth hockey team in Minneapolis, goalie Greg Goldberg proclaimed, “We either play or play around. You know, have fun. You know, that thing that makes you smile and laugh.”
This must have taken root with a younger Griffin Armstrong who admitted that he was “absolutely obsessed” with these movies as a kid growing up in Tucson.
Today, more than 20 years later, the concept of play defines everything he does as executive chef at Playground Bar & Lounge, which recently reopened at 278 E. Congress Street after more than two years on a pandemic-driven hiatus.
“The biggest thing I looked forward to when I was a kid was going outside to play,” Armstrong said. “Everything else seemed so boring, I just wanted to run, and recess was the only time that I could be with my buddies in an atmosphere that was completely unrestricted.”
Armstrong said Playground has been through a number of menu changes over the years, and he thought it was critical for his reopening menu — 70% of which consists of new dishes — to continue to connect his guests with playful memories from their childhood.
“We wanted to capture that nostalgic feeling, that idea of play, recess, and old school lunchtime, and give it a modern take,” he said.
He pointed to the fried mac and cheese bites as an example, with elbow macaroni, cheese sauce, panko, scallion and pomodoro sauce.
“This is an elevated version of the mac and cheese from our school cafeteria days, made more bar and finger food-friendly,” he said.
Another expression of classic kid cuisine is the Tostitos Locos, with Tostitos chips, salsa verde, pinto beans, avocado lime crema, chipotle honey crema, pico de gallo, pickled onions, queso fresco, and queso sauce.
“This is one of the dishes that we brought back from an earlier menu, a twist on my days going to the Circle K for nachos, filling the bowl with chips, and pumping out that hot cheese and chili,” he remembered. “It’s another throwback to the kind of things that I really liked as a kid.”
Other dishes on the menu include flatbreads, salads, skewers, tacos, sliders, and a fried bologna sandwich, of course.
“One of our objectives with this new menu was to showcase our food program in a way that demonstrated to our guests that we’re more than a club,” he said. “We want people who may already be familiar with Playground the nightclub to see us at Playground Bar & Lounge with a heavier focus on food.”
This commitment also required a kitchen remodel which resulted in a space that’s twice as big as its predecessor. Other renovations include new furnishings to the interior bar, the rooftop bar, and “Bar Cinema” on the downstairs patio showing classic films from the 1980s and 1990s.
Armstrong has probably already put in his request for a Bar Cinema Mighty Ducks marathon, which he says would pair beautifully with Playground’s Bar Burger with two beef patties, American cheese, lettuce, tomato, onion, house pickles, brioche bun, and PG burger sauce.
“I mean, you’d have a cheeseburger at a hockey game anyway, so why not do it right?”
278 E. Congress Street, Tucson
Closed Mondays and Tuesdays