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CJ Arlotta

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Spicy Watermelon Margarita: A Verde Kitchen & Cocktails Favorite

verde
Verde’s spicy watermelon margarita.

Keeping a specialty cocktail on the menu for years says something about the drink — it’s clearly a customer favorite (in addition to its being profitable). But what makes a cocktail a customer favorite? It’s hard to pinpoint a single factor, but freshly squeezed ingredients are usually involved.

“This cocktail has been on the menu since we opened in 2014,” says Ian Soukup, bar manager at Verde Kitchen and Cocktails, a Mexican restaurant located in Bay Shore, N.Y., known for making all its margaritas with 100 percent Blue Weber Agave Tequila, organic agave, and fresh-squeezed citrus. “When we opened, we wanted to showcase that we were using fresh seasonal ingredients and homemade infusions.”

Verde’s spicy watermelon margarita is made up of pepper-infused tequila, fresh watermelon juice, fresh-squeezed lime juice, triple sec, and agave syrup. It’s garnished with salt and a jalapeño slice.

“We wanted to pair the sweetness of fresh watermelon juice with our house-infused pepper tequila,” Soukup says. “The watermelon really helps balance the cocktail and allow all of the flavors to be highlighted without being overpowered by heat.”

To make the cocktail, add all the ingredients in a cocktail shaker over ice. Cap and shake vigorously for about 10 seconds. Then pour the tin’s contents into a salt-rimmed cocktail glass. Garnish with a jalapeño slice.

“The most challenging aspect is waiting for the infusion to finish and taking the time to squeeze the juice from the limes, but I assure you that if you use fresh juice, your hard work will be rewarded,” he says. 

He describes the cocktail as, “Summertime in a glass, especially when we are in peak watermelon season.”

“It stands out as a great intro for someone wanting to try spicy cocktails,” he says.

Verde Kitchen and Cocktails is located at 70 E. Main St., Bay Shore. It can be reached at 631-665-6300. verdekitchen.com

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Hermanas in Lindenhurst Serves Up a Spicy Mezcal Cocktail

hermanas
Hermanas picantes.

Tacos, empanadas, and burritos go well with all kinds of drinks, but for some reason, mezcal above all hits the spot for many. Maybe it’s mezcal’s smokiness that enhances the spiciness associated with many traditional Hispanic dishes. Whatever it is, mezcal is a go-to for many Hispanic-inspired cocktails.  

“We all love mezcal, so naturally, we had to have at least one cocktail on our menu that featured this spirit,” says Sara Pesserillo, one of the three owners of Hermanas Kitchen and Cocktails, a Hispanic restaurant, in Lindenhurst. “We also all love spicy things, so one of our cocktails was definitely going to bring the heat. To us, it seemed like a no-brainer to combine these two things.”

Hermanas’ team eventually came up with the hermanas picantes [spicy sisters] after going back and forth on how to incorporate mezcal into its cocktails. The cocktail’s made with mezcal, fresh lime juice, fresh grapefruit juice and habanero bitters. 

“The best way to describe the hermanas picantes is as a spicy, smoky, grapefruit margarita,” Pesserillo says. ”Because there are people who do not prefer a smoky taste to their drinks, we do let guests know what to expect when they order the hermanas picantes. This cocktail most certainly has a permanent place on our cocktail menu; everyone loves it.”

Add all the ingredients together, shake, strain and serve over a large ice cube. Then garnish the cocktail with a Tajín salt rim and a slice of dehydrated grapefruit. The restaurant dehydrates all its dried garnishes in house. 

“Go ahead and ask for it when you dine with us,” she says. “You won’t be disappointed.” 

Other cocktails on Hermanas’ menu include Spanish gin tonic, lavender bees knees, mezcal mule, that purple drink, and fancy fashioned.

While reservations are not required, Hermanas highly suggests them, for spacing is limited, especially on Fridays and Saturdays. 

Hermanas Kitchen and Cocktails is located at 136 S. Wellwood Ave., Lindenhurst. It can be reached at 631-991-8999. hermanaslindy.com

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La Fin Kitchen & Lounge in Montauk Serves Up Espresso Martinis

la fin
La Fin’s Espresso Martini in Montauk.

An espresso martini probably isn’t the first cocktail that comes to mind when you’re hitting Montauk this summer, but La Fin Kitchen & Lounge’s take on a classic will leave you with a different perspective.

“At La Fin, we try to be on the ‘cutting edge’ with our cocktail and beverage program,” says Erin Swain, sommelier and beverage manager at La Fin Kitchen & Lounge, a French farm-to-table kitchen and lounge situated on the docks of Montauk Harbor. “What’s more, our owners care deeply about using organic ingredients.”

That being said, La Fin uses Organic Krush coffee in the cocktail. 

“The coffee is freshly brewed and is a star component of this cocktail,” she says. 

Other ingredients in the cocktail include coffee vodka, Tia Maria coffee liqueur, Averna, Carpano Antica vermouth, and simple syrup. 

“We use Prairie Organic Vodka, along with Tia Maria, a dark liqueur made in Italy with Jamaican rum, vanilla bean, sugar cane, and coffee beans,” Swain says. “It’s not as sweet as Kahlúa and it balances well with the other components of the cocktail.”

The Carpano Antica provides a “level of sophistication and length on the palate,” she says. “We also use Averna, an Italian Amaro from Sicily, which has a slightly bitter, caramel-flavor profile, that gives the drink a bittersweet touch.”

“This turbo-charged cocktail has been wildly popular with guests, especially at the end of the night,” she adds. 

Oh, and here’s an insider tip: The Espresso Martini is technically an off-the-menu selection item at La Fin. 

Go ahead and ask for it when you dine with them. You won’t be disappointed.

474 W. Lake Dr. in Montauk. It can be reached at 631-668-8344 or lafinkitchen.com

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Lulu Kitchen & Bar Creates Cocktail With Sagaponack Vodka

lulu kitchen & bar
Luciana by Lulu Kitchen & Bar

When you’re in good company, it makes it a lot easier to produce a great end product, as is the case with developing cocktails. 

“The first spark behind the cocktail was simple,” said Joshua Fishbein, general manager of Lulu Kitchen & Bar, a Mediterranean bistro in Sag Harbor. “We wanted to make a drink using Sagaponacka Vodka, which is an exceptionally smooth and complex potato vodka made down the street at the Sagaponack Farm Distillery.”

Located in Sagaponack, the Sagaponack Farm Distillery, built in a nearly 100-year-old retired dairy barn, is known for its potato-based spirits. The distillery even has what they’d like to call a “potato whiskey” (they call it Single Spud) but can’t, for, according to federal law, whiskey must be made from a grain mixture that is at least 51 percent corn. The “mash” of the distillery’s first release of Single Spud was made from Adirondack Red potatoes, distilled and then barrel aged in new American Oak.

“One of the most beautiful aspects of summer here on the East End is the abundance of flowers, hence the Combier Rose Liqueur,” he says. “From there it was a question of ensuring balance and depth to the cocktail, and for this we added the Punt e Mes, pomegranate liqueur and a touch of citrus. The name of the cocktail [Luciana’s Charm] is an homage to one of our employees who is having her first baby and naming her ‘Luciana,’ nicknamed ‘Lulu..”

In sum, the cocktail has the following ingredients: Sagaponacka Potato Vodka, Punt e Mes, PAMA Pomegranate Liqueur, Combier Rose Liqueur, lime juice and aquafaba.

Combine all the ingredients in a shaker, add ice, shake and double strain into a coupe glass. Garnish with a dried edible flower or dehydrated strawberry and citrus zest. 

“Light and fresh, very easy to drink with a soft velvety mouthfeel,” Fishbein says. “Impossible to have just one.”

Lulu Kitchen & Bar is located at 126 Main St. in Sag Harbor. It can be reached at 631-725-0900 or lulusagharbor.com

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Bakuto in Lindenhurst Whips Up a ‘Bright and Citrusy’ Cocktail

bakuto

A fresh take on a classic cocktail is a lot harder than it looks. When you’re trying to connect the present with the past, a lot can go awry. 

Bakuto, a Japanese Izakaya restaurant in Lindenhurst, decided to make this process even more challenging by attempting to also bridge the gap between familiar and foreign. The finished product? The lemongrass Negroni. 

“As a Japanese Izakaya, I wanted the cocktail menus to use products that would pair well with the food,” says Patrick Capellini, bar manager at Bakuto. “The dishes have a lot of depth to them with rich umami flavor. Bitter and bright just happens to be the perfect pairing. Also, with every menu, I do try my best to have one element of each drink be Japanese, whether it’s a spirit, a fruit, a syrup, etc. Here, by using Shochu, it checks all the marks.”

His inspiration for the lemongrass Negroni was — not really a surprise — the Negroni, a popular Italian cocktail composed of three readily available ingredients: gin, sweet vermouth, and Campari.  

“It’s a classic cocktail that has been my favorite drink for as long as I can remember,” he says. “I wanted to do a riff on the Negroni using Japan’s national spirit, which is Shochu. I thought if I could make a classic using a foreign spirit I could bridge the gap between familiar and foreign.”

Doing a fresh take on a classic, especially one that’s perfectly balanced, is always tricky. To keep things simple, he broke down the Negroni into the following framework: the spirit, the bitter element, and the sweetness component. By doing this, he was able to easily swap in and out what he wanted. 

“The final cocktail comes to life with Mizu, a Japanese Shochu distilled spirit made from lemongrass,” Capellini says. “Next, we needed our bitter element. I found Luxardo Bitter Bianco had exactly the flavor I was looking for, but it also packs a punch, so to balance it I added two elements of sweetness. Finally, for the sweetness, this cocktail gets both crème de poire (pear liqueur) and Dolin blanc, which is a clear sweet vermouth.”

When customers ask about what the lemongrass Negroni tastes like, he replies with, “bright and citrusy, with a touch of booze and bitter on the back end.”

“The feedback has been phenomenal,” he says. “I have definitely gained some diehard fans with this one. Our cocktail menu has changed a few times, but this has become a staple and isn’t going anywhere.”

Bakuto is located at 121 N. Wellwood Ave. in Lindenhurst. It can be reached at 631-225-1760 or bakutobar.com.

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Blackbird Kitchen in Wantagh Crafts Sweet ‘n’ Sour Cocktails

cocktail
Brandy-soaked cherries sparked the creation of this clever cocktail.

Ask any bartender about creating cocktails, and you’ll soon find out how much fun the process can be, especially when there’s a problem to solve.

That’s exactly how the cocktail known as one of the boys was born at Blackbird Kitchen and Cocktails, an American bistro offering a seasonal menu of small plates and cocktails in Wantagh.

“We soak our Luxardo cherries in brandy to reduce the syrupiness and add a little bite to the cherry itself,” says Bitsy Donohue, beverage director at Blackbird. “When we’ve used up all the cherries — in Manhattans, old fashioned, and other cocktails — we are left with this delicious kind of tart, sweet, cherry/brandy syrup. So in trying to reduce our waste, we realized we needed to figure out something cool to do with it. We started trying different things and finally landed here!”

One of the boys has several ingredients, including bourbon, lemon, brandied cherry, honey and vanilla. To make the drink, add all the ingredients to a shaker tin, throw in some ice, give the shaker a few shakes, strain the liquid into a coupe glass, and garnish the drink with a dehydrated lemon wheel.

Expect a cherry bourbon sour on the palate. 

“People get nervous because it seems like there’s a lot of sweeteners in this cocktail, but the vanilla and honey really act as support to the depth of the cherry syrup, so it’s not overly sweet at all, while still bringing you all these strong flavors,” Donohue says. 

“Our old-fashioned drinkers have loved it,” she says. “Our cocktail drinkers have loved it. I think it has enough familiarity, while still being just a little different, to pique the interest of our guests. And when they find out the syrup is a byproduct of our cherries, they’re always a little shocked. For me, it’s just really cool to make a drink that’s less wasteful, goes really well with Blackbird’s food, and that people order again!”

Blackbird Kitchen and Cocktails is located at 3026 Merrick Rd. in Wantagh. It can be reached at 516-654-9200 or blackbirdli.com

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Sparkling Pointe Offers Low-Calorie Wine on the North Fork

Sparkling Pointe’s 2016 Brut Nature.

Sometimes a boozy glass of wine isn’t what you need. Maybe you’re on a new diet, or you’re looking for something with low alcohol beverage volume.

If either situation sounds like you, Sparkling Pointe’s Brut Nature may be your best bet. 

“We feel it is a perfect addition to the Sparkling Pointe portfolio and fills a space unlike any of our other wines,” says Melissa L. Rockwell, direct-to-consumer sales manager at Sparkling Pointe, a North Forth vineyard known for its vast selection of sparkling wines. 

Released in September 2020, Sparkling Pointe’s Brut Nature has been in the works since the 2016 vintage. 

“The Brut Nature was originally conceived by relying heavily on our reserve wines (those held back and stored in neutral oak and small steel casks from past vintages) to supply the texture and balance that is typically achieved via the final addition of liquor dosage,” Rockwell says. 

The blend, which has an ABV of 12.5 percent, is composed of three types of grapes: 33 percent Chardonnay, 56 percent Pinot Noir and 11 percent Pinot Meunier. 

“For me the aromatics are citrus-led with green apple, some floral, and a bit of that brioche-crispy croissant that comes from the neutral oak aged base wines plus the three years aging on the lees,” Rockwell says. “There is a bit of mineral and dried grassiness that I really enjoy as well. The palate is striking in its dryness (which is the point!), and crisp acidity up front, but it also has a softness to the finish.”

The winery produced 360 cases of Brut Nature. A bottle is $42.00, unless you’re a member of one of Sparkling Pointe’s clubs, then it’s $37.80.

“It has been quite popular and well received at the tasting house,” she says. “Although I think there is a trendiness to the style and even non wine aficionados are compelled by a no-sugar, low-alcohol, low-calorie sparkling wine.”

Sparkling Pointe is located at 39750 County Rd. 48 in Southold. It can be reached at 631-765-0200.

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Old Fields Barbecue Pours Banana-Infused Old-Fashioned Cocktails

old-fashioned
This cocktail puts a twist on a classic.

When you’re eating a perfectly smoked beef brisket or pork sausage, one spirit typically comes to mind — bourbon. 

“We were experimenting on cool ideas we could use our centrifuge for,” says Rory Van Nostrand, who owns Old Fields Barbecue Setauket, a barbecue restaurant that also specializes in craft cocktails, with David Tunney. “We’ve made a bunch of different ingredients with it but the banana-infused old-fashioned was everyone’s favorite.”

Fans of the old-fashioned won’t be disappointed by the restaurant’s subtle twist on this classic drink. Many of the ingredients in the banana-infused old-fashioned should be familiar to cocktail traditionalists, and that was done by design. 

The drink’s ingredients include bourbon, banana, an orange, an amerena cherry and Aromatic Bitters.

“We blend up bananas with bourbon,” Van Nostrand says. “Then we spin it in the centrifuge to remove the banana pulp and leave the flavor. This really smooths out the bourbon.”

To finish off the drink, they add an orange and an amarena cherry. As is the case for traditional old-fashioned cocktails, the banana-infused old-fashioned is served on the rocks.

“It’s a bourbon drink that doesn’t drink aggressive and boozy like a lot of classic bourbon cocktails yet it’s not overly sweet,” he says. “We feel that it’s a cocktail a bourbon drinker would love but someone who isn’t necessarily into bourbon will drink and enjoy.”  

The cocktail also “goes especially well with barbecue or a steak,” Van Nostrand says. 

“Everyone loves it,” he says. “We’ve been serving it now for three years, and it’s still our most popular cocktail.”

Old Fields Barbecue is located at 130 Old Town Rd. in Setauket. It can be reached at 631-675-1313 or ofsetauket.com

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2 Spring in Oyster Bay Serves Up Refreshing Holiday Cheer

Celebrate the holidays with a Martinelli.

Fall scents and flavors remind many of the sound of leaves crunching under rain boots, home-cooked meals with loved ones, and, depending on the outside temperature, family gatherings around a roaring fire. 

But the joys of autumn don’t have to necessarily end in late December, when winter officially kicks off. Sometimes, all you need is a favorite fall cocktail to transition you comfortably to a new season. 2 Spring’s Martinelli attempts to do just that. 

“The inspiration was making a refreshing, fall-style drink that resembled Martinelli’s sparkling apple cider,” says Jordan Lari, restaurant director at 2 Spring, an American brasserie created by Claudia and Michael Taglich, and Chef Jesse Schenker in the heart of Oyster Bay. “We wanted to make something that was like a soft drink — but very fall flavored and refreshing, but still boozy.”

The ingredients in the Martinelli include Bulleit Bourbon, Laird’s Applejack, Bénédictine, St. Elizabeth’s Allspice Dram, apple cider, chai, and lemon.

“We start by making an apple cider syrup by reducing apple cider with chai tea,” Lari says. “We then mix this syrup with Bulleit Bourbon, Laird’s Applejack, Bénédictine, St. Elizabeth’s Allspice Dram, lemon juice and water.”

They then carbonate the drink by using a DrinkMate soda maker.

“It’s like apple pie soda,” Lari says. “It’s as simple and delicious as that.”

Even though the cocktail was created with autumn in mind, they plan on keeping it on the menu throughout winter, for good reason. 

So far, the drink has been well received.

“The hardest part is making enough to keep up with the demand,” he says. 

2 Spring is located at 2 Spring St. in Oyster Bay. It can be reached at 2springstreet.com or 516-624-4211.

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Montauk Distilling Co. Pours New Spirits on East End

Montauk Distilling Co.’s Modico Collins.

A new distillery has opened on the East End, and it’s already creating a buzz with its Modico Collins. 

Despite its name, Montauk Distilling Co. is not located at the tip of the South Fork, it’s in Riverhead, right next door to North Fork Brewing Co.

“Being centrally located was important to us,” said Leucio Iacobelli, owner of the distillery. “We hope that whether it be out at a local restaurant, from your local spirit shop or visiting us directly at the distillery, every Long Islander can know where we are and what we stand for, putting the best quality products we can in your hand and letting them speak for themselves. In a market where most of one’s purchases come from places that they may never visit, we think it’s pretty special that you come visit us and experience the process firsthand.”

Danielle Sweeny, the distillery’s tasting room manager, created Montauk’s tasting room, which has several tables and a fully stocked bar with seating. She also has a hand in developing the distillery’s many cocktails.

“One of our most popular specialty cocktails is our Modico Collins, a twist on a classic featuring our Modico Vodka,” Iacobelli said. “It has been a staple since we opened our doors on August 1.” 

The ingredients in the Modico Collins include Modico Vodka, agave nectar, freshly squeezed lime juice, club soda, LI bubbly and mint sprig.

“It’s always best to come and see us to find out what is next,” he said. “Our tasting room and distillery will be home to our R&D, and we love to offer samples to our guests firsthand when new inspirations come upon us. We recently expanded our distribution, so we hope that our customers are able to enjoy our lineup of spirits throughout Long Island and beyond and can ask for our locally crafted brands by name wherever they enjoy a good drink, or grab a bottle from the shelf.”

Montauk Distilling Co. is located at 24 E. 2nd St., Suite B, in Riverhead. It can be reached at 631-727-6326 or montaukdistillingco.com

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