EatDrinkShopCook: Pouring it on in search of a signature drink
The other day, my friend Willow told me that her New Year's resolution was to find a signature drink.
That's an admirable pursuit, I thought. My drink of choice is sparkling wine, although it's not always easy to find it by the glass. Perhaps, I thought, I should set off on my own quest to find an accessible drink, something that I could order anywhere, whether I go to a dive bar or a more refined establishment.
So last week, with designated driver at the wheel, (Repeat: I was not driving), I set off on my pursuit. The challenge I set up for myself was to try different specialty drinks at restaurants and bars in Fairfield and Westport to find out what people are drinking these days.
My first stop was the Greenhouse Grill where, before I even asked, the waitress explained that they had a special drink of the evening. As long as it didn't contain tequila (the one spirit that would not be part of this investigation for reasons I won't go into), I was on it. As luck would have it, the drink was a sparkler, a peach Bellini. The bartender combined sparkling rosé, peach juice and peach brandy, then topped it off with a slice of blood orange. It was fantastic. Bubbly, light and tart with just enough sweetness. It was the perfect drink to kick off my research.
As it would turn out, it was a good thing I started there, because Day 2 of the Great Libation Investigation took an ugly turn. I should point out here that my all-too-willing assistants on this leg of the journey were a couple of friends who had just dropped off their 4-year-old for a week's vacation at Grandma's. In other words, they were ready to party. We discussed the options and decided to head to Bobby Q's in downtown Westport, where the drink menu is four pages of boozy wackiness.
I was enamored with the Huckleberry Lemonade (44 North Huckleberry vodka, pink lemonade and a lime wedge); a Sexy Stella (Grey Goose L'Orange vodka, pineapple juice and a Stella Atrois draft topper); Cotton Candy Cosmo (Stoli Ohranj, Stoli Vanil and Stoli Razberi, Blue Curacao and a splash of cranberry); and Big Poppa Sweets (Godiva Chocolate Liqueur, Bailey's and butterscotch schnapps). This sounded like just the place for my purpose.
More InformationTHE SCOOP The Greenhouse: 12 Unquowa Place, Fairfield. 203-571-6131. Lovely wine menu, interesting beers on tap, specialty drink of the night. The Horseshoe: 355 Pequot Ave., Southport. 203-255-8624. Beer and a shot. The Black Duck: 605 Riverside Ave., Westport. 203-227-7978. Beer, a slab of fried mozzarella and Glenn. Bobby Q's: 42 Main Street, Westport. 203-454-7800. Four pages of drinks. Martel: 2316 Post Road, Fairfield. 203-292-6916. Wine now, coconut martini in July.
But then we got sidetracked. My accomplices, new to the area, wanted a tour along the way. That's how we got the night started at the venerable Horseshoe in Southport. You pretty much have two choices here if you don't want to get the evil eye: beer or hard liquor. So when I asked the bartender if they had any sort of house specialty drink, she gave the old stink eye and simply said, "We don't do that here."
"How about your most popular request?" I asked.
"Beer and a shot," she said. No, those days are long over for me. "How about something a college kid would order?" I asked.
She brightened. Yes, she had just the thing. "Pinnacle cherry and seven," she said. Pinnacle is a French vodka that comes in flavors such as grape, chocolate, banana, le double espresso and whipped cream, and is the drink of choice among the 21-sters. While my posse saddled up to the bar to enjoy their beer, I sipped on the vodka and 7-Up concoction. It tasted like a Luden's cough drop. Twenty years ago I would've loved this drink. Today, not so much.
As we left the Horseshoe, my born-and-bred New York friend said, "That's my kind of place."
"Have you ever been to the Duck?" I asked.
"No. What's that?" he questioned. And so, you can see where this night was headed.
Bobby Q's could wait a little while longer, we decided. Our friends needed to experience the Black Duck on the Saugatuck River.
When we walked in, Ozzy Osbourne's "Crazy Train" was blasting on the sound system. We should've seen it as a portent of things to come. Nothing could've prepared us for Glenn Ferrari. In some bars, you can stand there and wait and wait and wait all night for the bartender to take your order. On this evening, however, we were immediately accosted. "What do you want?" he shouted. "We don't do mojitos!"
Now I was faced with the challenge of explaining my mission to him, and I wasn't feeling very confident, but it had to be done.
"I'm looking for a signature drink," I explained.
This is the part of the article where I can't really quote anyone anymore. There was an interesting exchange of words, shall we say, and I somehow ended up with a shot of root beer vodka in front of me.
I'm not proud to say I did it. But I did. I kicked it back.
That seemed to gain me some iota of respect from Glenn. He explained that this was 3 Olives vodka. "They're trying to break into the vodka market with these flavors," he said. He pulled out a bottle of grape flavored.
"What do you do with these vodkas?" I asked him.
"You take a bath in it! What do you think you do with it?" he replied. Very, very loudly. Then he made me a very purple, grapey drink.
We never made it to Bobby Q's that night, and, if I recall correctly, I sampled an array of vodka-based drinks, none of which will be making it onto my list of libations. Clearly, flavored vodkas are the "in" thing right now. The drinks didn't cut it, but thumb's up to Glenn who kept us in stitches the whole night.
Day three, and despite my best efforts, I still hadn't found "the one." Looking for a more mellow experience, and perhaps something a little more subtle than pink/candy cane/orange sherbet/stick-an-umbrella-in-it/foo-foo drinks, I headed over to Martel in Fairfield at happy hour. Frankly, I really just wanted a glass of wine.
This time the bartender was much less animated and didn't persuade me to do any shots. When I asked him about a special drink, however, his first suggestion was a Cosmo. I've been there, done that (and frankly, never found the appeal). So when he next suggested a coconut martini, I cringed, but decided to give it a whirl.
Everyone was drinking wine, except one gentleman, Charlie, who was having a Scotch and soda. When my pale yellow, creamy martini was poured, it was the talk of the bar.
"What is that?" people kept asking, looking at it as if they'd never seen a girly drink before.
I took a sip, expecting it to taste like a pina colada. Instead, the combination of UV coconut vodka and pineapple juice was surprisingly delicious. I'm usually not a huge fan of coconut "flavor," as it more often than not tastes artificial and is reminiscent of suntan lotion. But this was a subtle coconut taste, coyly balanced by the acid in the pineapple juice.
Would it be my pick for a signature drink? Definitely not in the winter, when all I want is a flute of Champagne or a glass of red wine. But ask me again in the summer, if we ever get there. I just might have found something fun to add to my repertoire.
E-mail Patti Woods at email@example.com.
The Greenhouse: 12 Unquowa Place, Fairfield. 203-571-6131. Lovely wine menu, interesting beers on tap, specialty drink of the night.
The Horseshoe: 355 Pequot Ave., Southport. 203-255-8624. Beer and a shot.
The Black Duck: 605 Riverside Ave., Westport. 203-227-7978. Beer, a slab of fried mozzarella and Glenn.
Bobby Q's: 42 Main Street, Westport. 203-454-7800. Four pages of drinks.
Martel: 2316 Post Road, Fairfield. 203-292-6916. Wine now, coconut martini in July.