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CJ’s Restaurant & Bar: Home of The Rocket Fuel

The Rocket Fuel, a popular drink on Fire Island and beyond, was invented by CJ's Restaurant & Bar.

For nearly 50 years, CJ’s Restaurant & Bar has been serving the Fire Island community in various ways, but what it’s ultimately become known for is one of its piña colada-esque cocktails, giving the iconic establishment the nickname of “Home of the Rocket Fuel.”

“The Rocket Fuel was founded in 1971 at CJ’s Fire Island,” says Chris Mercogliano, a manager at The Palms Hotel, which owns the Fire Island staple. “It has become the drink of Fire Island and is served at many bars and restaurants. However, the best and still original version is served at CJ’s.”

To accommodate demand for the cocktail in the 1970s, when it was opened in Ocean Beach by John “Gio” Palermo and named after his son, Christopher John, CJ’s had five high-speed blenders and designated several employees to be “special Rocket Fuel makers,” whose only job was to make the cocktail, Mercogliano says.

Today, CJ’s still has teams of “blender guys and girls” behind the bar to ensure Rocket Fuels are concocted as quickly as they’re ordered. 

When asked how he’d describe the Rocket Fuel, he replies, “As the drink of the locals and all of Fire Island.”

Basically, the Rocket Fuel is a “151-proof rum-infused piña colada,” Mercogliano says.

The cocktail contains 151-proof rum, Coco Lopez, pineapple juice, amaretto, and ice. After the ingredients are blended and poured into a cup, a cherry is then added as a garnish.

Rob Weber, the restaurant’s general manager, would describe the drink to someone who’s never had it before as “Imagine what heaven would taste like if it would fit in a glass.”

“People come to CJ’s specifically for an original Rocket Fuel  the same way people travel to Nathan’s in Coney Island for an original Nathan’s hot dog,” Mercogliano says. 

Babylon Mudslide Back By Popular Demand at Salt Shack

Regulars at the Beach Hut, the oceanfront bar and restaurant in Cedar Beach, were disappointed when the venue changed hands, became the equally popular Salt Shack, and dropped the Babylon Mudslide from the menu last summer.

But there is good news for 2019: Salt Shack, which opened for the season in early May, has brought back the one, the only Babylon Mudslide.

“The new owners of the Salt Shack made improvements in every aspect of this beachfront resort with a focus on speed of cocktails and speed and quality of food,” says Mark Miller, who owns the seaside grill with several other established restaurateurs on the island. “We invested in the best frozen drink machines that money could buy in order to remove the lines waiting for frozen drinks. Mission was accomplished and every drink improved — except one.”

Salt Shack’s owners opened the business’s doors in 2018 without the Beach Hut’s Mudslide on the menu.

“We took the old Mudslide off the menu because making it with ice cream was time-consuming, and we no longer wanted lines for anything,” Miller says.

Throughout the first year of business, what the owners learned was the following: The Mudslide was a community staple. After taking customer feedback into consideration, the owners decided to bring back the Babylon Mudslide because “the people of Babylon were so passionate about it,” he says.

The ingredients for the Babylon Mudslide are as follows: Kahlúa, Absolut Vodka, Bailey’s, milk and (of course) ice cream.

“The drink of the year at the Salt Shack 2019 will be the return of the Babylon Mudslide, with real chocolate chip ice cream,” he says. “The people have spoken!”

Throw the drink’s ingredients into a blender with ice and blend. The drink’s served in a 16-ounce Salt Shack Cup with a Hershey’s Chocolate rim.  

“Your two-hour vacation starts at the Salt Shack on Ocean Parkway in Babylon,” he says.

Mill Creek Tavern Pays Homage To Oyster Bay’s Most Prominent Resident With Sagamore’s Rex

Mill Creek Tavern in Bayville mixed Sagamore’s Rex cocktail with Teddy Roosevelt in mind.

To celebrate the life of one of Oyster Bay’s most prominent residents, Mill Creek Tavern in Bayville developed its Sagamore’s Rex cocktail with the area’s history in mind.

“The cocktail was created after a meeting with the team at Mill Creek Tavern and researching the history of the area,” says Nolan Studley, an artisanal spirit specialist at Mill Creek Tavern, an American bar and grill overlooking the Long Island Sound.

“They related a funny story about making a cocktail with maca root for a regular and his very excitable reaction,” he says. “They wanted to take on the challenge of introducing more cocktails with unexpected modifiers and ingredients. They specifically mentioned beet juice as an ingredient that would be fun to show guests how ‘healthy’ beet juice can be part of a delicious cocktail.”

Made famous in recent times by Long Island native Billy Joel’s “The Ballad of Billy the Kid,” Oyster Bay is also known to be the late home of one of the country’s better-known commander-in-chiefs, President Theodore Roosevelt.

Roosevelt spent his childhood at Sagamore Hill, which served as the Summer White House during the seven summers he spent there as the country’s president.

The cocktail includes Sagamore Spirit Signature Rye Whiskey, lemon juice, beet juice and thyme-infused simple syrup.

“After reading more about Theodore Roosevelt and Sagamore Hill, the idea for the cocktail emerged naturally, and the riff on a sour seemed like a fun way to pay homage to such a historic figure from the area,” Studley says.

To make Sagamore’s Rex, simply add all the ingredients to a shaker and shake well over ice. Then, strain over a large ice cube and express a lemon peel for garnish.

“It’s tart, savory, lightly and fresh — a refreshing spring/summer rye drink,” he says.

Mill Creek Tavern is located at 275 Bayville Ave., Bayville. It can be reached at 516-289-9489 or millcreekny.com

Whalebone: New Craft Cocktail Washes Ashore at Sandbar in Cold Spring Harbor

The Whalebone was first mixed at Sandbar in Cold Spring Harbor.

Oftentimes, mixologists are told to do the following: “Make me something.”

Without a starting place, there are so many ways to go, so when the slightest direction is given, a mixologist can concoct a drink to a customer’s liking — or create one for the masses. And sometimes, a star is born, as was the case with a drink dubbed the Whalebone.

“While behind the bar at the newly opened Sandbar in Cold Spring Harbor, I was handed a bottle of Crème de Pamplemousse and tasked with creating a special cocktail for a few friends who were sitting at the bar,” recalls Dan Leopold, bartender at the upscale restaurant showcasing American cuisine dishes from both land and sea — all of which are created by Executive Chef Guy Reuge.

Leopold accepted the challenge, even though he — quite honestly — didn’t see it as one.

“I enjoy mixing different flavors together, so when given a new liqueur I was excited to blend it and see what concoction I could come up with,” Leopold says.

“I believe that mixing cocktails is an art,” he adds. “My art is created by mixing flavors together to create something delicious. My years of experience allow me an instinct on the best ways to showcase a new liqueur or match certain flavors together.”

The cocktail includes Tito’s Handmade Vodka, Crème de Pamplemousse, fresh lemon and lime juices, blood orange purée, simple syrup and club soda.

“The concoction I came up with was an immediate hit with everyone, who believed that it was made with actual grapefruit; however, it is the Crème de Pamplemousse that gives it the citrus and refreshing flavor,” he says. “Thus, the was born.”

To make Whalebone, simply, pour the vodka, simple syrup, Crème de Pamplemousse, lemon and lime juices, blood orange purée, and club soda into a shaker. Shake the ingredients before serving the cocktail over ice.

“It’s a citrus cocktail, more tart than sweet,” he says. “It’s very refreshing and the perfect warm weather cocktail.”

With beach season on the horizon, just such a nautical-themed drink is in order.

Sandbar is located at 55 Main St., Cold Spring Harbor. It can be reached at 631-498-6188, lessings.com

 

The Bruno: Seven Quarts Tavern’s Meal of A Bloody Mary

Lauren Hill, owner of Seven Quarts Tavern, mixes up The Bruno, her bar's take on a Bloody Mary.

With its resurgence in popularity, the Bloody Mary has been getting makeovers from numerous bars across the country.

In Northport, Seven Quarts Tavern, which boasts golds and rustic reds throughout the interior, offers tavern goers a variety of craft beers on tap and a dinner menu packed with burgers, salads and seafood dishes. It’s kicked things up a notch with its own unique take on the classic cocktail known for being the ideal hangover remedy for so many imbibers.

“This is a play on one of my buddies’ Bloody Marys,” says Lauren Hill, who bought the cozy gastropub with Clark Ridge in the fall of 2018. “He brings out a delicious batch for the [yacht] club members who stay out on the water overnight.”

Called The Bruno, Seven Quarts Tavern’s twist on the cocktail is made with traditional Bloody Mary ingredients, including tomato juice, horseradish, Worcestershire sauce, Tabasco, and freshly squeezed lime and lemon juices. The major variations to the cocktail are added on at the end, and for imbibers with big appetites, the extras are filling, additional meals on top of what’s already included in the standard Bloody Mary.

“We include fresh homemade pickled asparagus along with a piece of blackened Cajun shrimp and a burger slider on a pretzel bun — courtesy of our chef, Justin Birtola,” Hill says. “You will never be disappointed from what this guy sends out of the kitchen. My partner and I adore him and everything about his M.O.”

Expect to see The Bruno on Seven Quarts Tavern’s brunch menu on Sundays. If the cocktail performs well, the owners may add it it to the tavern’s standard cocktail menu.

“It is a filling breakfast / hangover neutralizer that leaves you feeling great and prepared for the day ahead,” Hill says.

Seven Quarts Tavern is located at 688 Fort Salonga Rd. in Northport. It can be reached at 631-757-2000.

Drinking To Remember With Lola’s Butter Me Up

One of the reasons many people enjoy winter cocktails is that the flavors can bring back warm and cozy memories from childhood.

With its hints of apple cider, warm spices, and a buttery, slightly savory finish, Butter Me Up, a craft cocktail devised by Lola, a Mediterranean restaurant on Middle Neck Road in Great Neck, does just that.

“Coming from a home where baking during the holiday season was an everyday affair, I wanted something that was reminiscent of the butter cookies browning in the oven, and warm spices of mulled cider and apple pies,” says Lenny Messina, executive chef at Lola.

It isn’t unusual for Messina to feel a bit of nostalgia when crafting a new cocktail menu for Lola. Typically, when developing a new cocktail, he begins with a primary component, which could be a unique new liquor, a peak season fruit, or a seasonal staple.

“Once we have a primary flavor profile we begin testing ancillary flavors and pairings,” he says, “testing and fine tuning an array of recipes until the cocktail is refined and balanced. Even then, we will continue to make minor edits as the drink progresses on our menu.”

Among Butter Me Up’s core ingredients, one stands out among the rest: butter-washed rum.

“The butter-washed rum adds a savory complexity to the cocktail that we all fell in love with,” Messina says.

Besides the obvious, elements to the butter-washed rum include pumpkin pie spice, star anise, and cinnamon sticks. While the process behind the making of the butter-washed rum takes time, the “result is a rum with subtle flavors of toasted butter,” he says.

To make Butter Me Up, pour the butter-washed rum, amaretto and cider into a shaker tin, add ice and shake. Strain the cocktail into a chilled rocks glass (a cinnamon and sugar rim is optional) after it becomes slightly frothy. Then garnish with a cinnamon stick.

“The Butter Me Up cocktail provides a comforting and familiar presence of apple cider, followed with subtle hints of barrel-aged rum and rounding out with a buttery, nutty and slightly savory finish,” he says.

Lola is located at 113A Middle Neck Rd., Great Neck. It can be reached at 516-466-5666 or restaurantlola.com

 

Maple Bourbon Old Fashioned: Warming Winter Spirits

A bartender places a cherry in the Maple Bourbon Old Fashioned.

Transitioning from fall to winter is a favorite time for many, and the right cocktail, something sweet and smoky, can ease imbibers into the colder months by wrapping drinkers in virtual blankets.

Among classics offering that effect is the old fashioned. But at Grandpa’s Shed, a bar in Stony Brook where antiques, farm tools and framed photographs of grandfathers adorn the walls, mixologists improved on this staple.

“We were trying to find ingredients that would bring winter to you,” says Marios Patatinis, owner of Grandpa’s Shed.

Inspired by smoked cocktails he’d tasted in Europe, Patatinis collaborated with with Deanna Mollica, the bar’s general manager, to incorporate a smoky flavor in what became Grandpa’s Shed’s Maple Bourbon Old Fashioned.

“We wanted to do it a little more robust, so we actually grabbed hold of a torch and a wood plank, and then we went out and did our homework on wood chips and came across Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Whiskey Barrel Smoking Chips,” he recalls. “We fell in love with it.”

Prior to mixing the cocktail’s ingredients, the wood chips are set afire on a wood plank before a rocks glass smothers the flame.

“Not only does it take the drink to the next level, it puts on a show because you walk into the bar and right away you smell the smoke, you see the fire on the bar, and people are intrigued already before they even order the drink,” he says.

They use James E. Pepper’s 1776 Straight Bourbon Whiskey for the base since it’s on the sweeter side, with its notes of vanilla, honey, cloves, and chocolate, which fit their preferred flavor profile. And the bourbon’s name harkens back to when some Three Village residents aided General George Washington’s Culper Spy Ring, which gathered intel on British troops.

The duo built on the bourbon’s flavor by adding bitters and maple syrup (the brand is Grandpa’s secret).

“The maple syrup doesn’t mask the bourbon, but in the back of your throat, you get a little bit of that sweetness, almost like a pancake,” Mollica says.

The cocktail is garnished with a Woodford Reserve Bourbon cherry and an orange peel.

“You smell it and are questioning yourself: Am I actually sitting in the pub, and or am I actually outside making s’mores?” Patatinis says.

Grandpa’s Shed is located at 121 Main St. in Stony Brook. It can be reached at grandpasshed.com, 631-675-9263.

Downtown Burger At Five Point Cafe’s New Winter Classic

Come this winter, one of Downtown Burger At Five Point Cafe’s winter classic cocktails is getting a name change.

“A few years back, the former general manager was planning on developing an Irish-themed cocktail menu — [one that would flow better] with the Irish feel and aesthetic of what and who Five Points Cafe is,” says Ruy Alicea, general manager at Downtown Burger At Five Point Cafe in Sayville. “We hold very strong roots in the Irish community, as our owner James Rooney is of Irish descent. He chose the restaurant’s name and its entity to reflect his love, passion and connection to the original five points and Irish community.”

Many of the drinks on the restaurant’s original cocktail menu were “unique and fun,” Alicea says. One of cocktails on that menu was the Irish Kiss, which was popular among cafe guests, but it wasn’t the drink the team today wanted to represent the restaurant.

“We were looking for something that was more of our own signature cocktail, so we played with the recipe by changing juices and mixers,” he says. “We accidentally developed our own take on the Irish Kiss.”

An Irish Kiss calls for Irish whiskey, peach schnapps, ginger juice and orange juice. Combined, the cocktail “leaves you with a sweet, peachy aftertaste,” he says. But would happen if peach were swapped for raspberry?

“We took on the challenge of discovering something new, and we did,” Alicea says. “We called it the Downtown Winter Punch.”

Expected to be on the menu this winter, this twist on the Irish Kiss is made with Irish whiskey, raspberry puree, ginger juice and orange juice. Instead of a sweet, peachy aftertaste, the cocktail has a citrus and raspberry taste, and gives off “great notes from the Irish whiskey,” he says. While the name Downtown Winter Punch won’t be on the menu this coming winter, the same cocktail will be listed — just under another name.

“Over the years, the popularity of this drink has taken off,” Alicea says. “It has a very fall and winter feel, so when it came to this year’s winter cocktail menu, we decided to change the name one last time to the ‘Winter Classic,’ as it’s been with us now for eight years.”

The Manhasset at Publicans: An Oldie But Goodie

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There are infinite ways to tweak traditional cocktails. For whiskey lovers craving a twist to a classic, the Manhasset awaits at Publicans, which adds an extra shot to freshen up the Manhattan.

The Manhasset was created in the 1970s by Steve Schnitzer, the original owner of Publicans on Plandome Road, before it closed in 1999. Edison’s Ale House opened in its place and remained until 2016. Publicans was reborn last year as a modern American tavern — and resumed mixing the Manhasset.

“It tastes like a very smooth Manhattan,” Carter Messman, director of operations at the new Publicans, says of the Manhasset.

Behind the bar today are 20 beers on draft, shelves of liquor and subway tiles. Wood paneling, exposed white brick, and paned windows divide the bar and dining area. Burgers, tavern classics, steaks and wings adorn the menu.

Not all is lost from the original Publicans. The Manhasset is still made with the original recipe. The drink made an appearance in Pulitzer Prize-winning author J.R. Moehringer’s 2006 memoir, The Tender Bar.

Unlike the traditional Manhattan, the Manhasset has an additional component to it: a shot of liquor on the side, designed to take the Manhattan cocktail to the next level.

There are several ingredients to Schnitzer’s version of the Manhattan: Evan Williams Bourbon, Carpano’s Antica Formula Vermouth and Regan’s Orange Bitters.

To make the cocktail, simply add the bitters, bourbon and vermouth to a mixing tin, stir and pour over a large ice cube in a rocks glass. Grab a shot glass, and pour the additional liquid into it. Garnish the cocktail with an orange peel and zest, and serve.

Combined with the sip-and-shot experience, the Manhasset has notes of cinnamon, orange and oak on top of a classic bourbon taste.

“The orange bitters make the bourbon extra smooth, and the extra shot on the side is an homage to the town and how the little extra is there to satisfy a town that enjoys its drinks,” Messman says.

Publicans is located at 550 Plandome Rd. in Manhasset. They can be reached at 516-627-7722 or publicansmanhasset.com

Greenport’s Industry Standard Mixes Up The Night Market

Pandan infused vodka, left, is a key ingredient in Industry Standard's The Night Market, right.

With a menu consisting of modern takes on traditional pub grub and Asian-inspired dishes, one NoFo bar has a new item on its cocktail menu that’s got customers asking, “What’s the Night Market?”

“Night markets in Asia are my favorite way to experience food, culture and flavor,” says Charmaine Strange, bar manager at Industry Standard Bar, a Greenport gastropub. “They’re full of interesting people, and the vendors are always phenomenal.”

With this in mind, last year she asked her executive chef, Greg Ling, to pick up pandan leaves — commonly used to flavor many Southeast Asian dishes — the next time he was in Chinatown. He obliged, and she infused the pandan leaves in Absolut vodka for a month.

“Pandan leaf is a really interesting flavor profile I [had always] wanted to use,” Strange says. “It’s nutty with a vanilla fragrance, which is really what makes it unique.”

She then combined coconut milk, simple syrup and butterfly pea tea, “which is bright blue and very earthy,” into a stainless steel cocktail shaker with the pandan-infused vodka.

“Butterfly pea tea is super cool too,” she says. “It’s a brilliant blue when steeped, but if you add an acid to it, the color changes. It also has a nice light flavoring similar to green tea — herbaceous but not overpowering.”

After shaking the ingredients, she strained them into a highball glass with ice and black tapioca pearls, also known as boba, resting at the bottom.

“Adding the tapioca just makes it a grown-up boba tea!” Strange says. “The cocktail works really well,” she adds. “The fragrances don’t overpower, and its complementary to the Asian dishes on our menu. It’s light, refreshing and easy to drink.”

When asked how she’d describe Night Market to a curious customer, without hesitation, the bar manager replied, “Something like you’ve never tried before but very Asian.”

“When I make drinks I always try to make something that is exactly the right drink for the person in front of me,” she says. “If I can evoke a memory, then I’ve done my part.”

Industry Standard is located at 45 Front St. in Greenport. They can be reached at 631-333-2500 or industrystandardny.com