Spring’s Best Collection . . . of Cocktails

Barcito/Tavernita’s flavorful kegged sangria is a big draw at the restaurant. (Photo: Tavernita)

With spring comes bouncy frocks in vibrant colors, the bouquet of fresh-cut flowers, and an awesome lineup of new cocktails. That’s right, cocktails.

A number of Chicago’s top bartenders just released their spring menus with seasonal sippers perfectly matching their chefs’ cuisine. For example, over at Logan Square hot spot Yusho, barkeep Alexander Bachman created his version of the classic Aviation to pair with chef Matthias Merges’ spicy boneless chicken wings flavored with bonito salt and lime. Bachman’s “kegged” version, made with the classic combo of gin, maraschino liqueur, crème de violette, and lemon juice, uses the batching technique so he can make the cocktail in bulk supply.

David Devaney holds down the fort at the Southern-focused Big Jones, where he’s hooking up the Faulkner cocktail of Old Weller Antique bourbon, fresh squeezed orange juice, Cochi Americano, egg white, and Peychaud’s bitters. His cocktail pairs nicely with Paul Fehribach’s pan-roasted hearts of palm that’s lightly roasted in butter, with pineapple, frisée, boiled peanut vinaigrette, and pea greens.

More homey fare can be found at Hearty, which complements the cocktails of Carol Donovan. Her French Citrus sipper (Pierre Ferrand Ambre, Cointreau, kumquats, Angostura orange bitters, fresh mint, lime) goes well with chef Dan Smith’s shrimp and grits entree of rock shrimp, cherry tomatoes, and shallots over Arrowhead Mill organic grits.

“This cocktail is a great way to enjoy cognac in a lighter way,” says Donovan. “The versatile kumquat really highlights the orange notes in the aged cognac, and the fresh mint keeps the whole thing tasting fresh and light.”

She adds that her Rosemary Rhubarb Flip (Citadelle gin, house-made rhubarb syrup, fresh rosemary, fresh lime, egg white) complements everything on the spring menu, but she particularly likes the drink with the signature poutine of cheese curds, chicken and gravy over house-cut fries.

Yusho’s kegged Aviation. (Photo: Yusho)

Cocktails also play an important role at West Town’s Leopold, where Caroline Hamilton has teamed up with executive chef Jeffrey Hedin for one delicious pairing. The flavors in his seared Diver scallops dish of German dumplings and a caraway scallop broth come out nicely when you add The Rare Rye (North Shore Distillery Aquavit gin, lemon, and the caraway liqueur Getreide-Kummel).

Sepia bartender Josh Pearson says The LLP “is a celebration of rhubarb, one of the first ingredients to arrive in spring that we can utilize in our bar.” It’s made with Encanto Pisco, house-made rhubarb and Angelica liqueur, lime juice and Bittermens Hopped Grapefruit Bitters to pair with chef Andrew Zimmerman’s black cod with king crab, artichoke, grapefruit and truffle jus. Pearson adds that it would also go well with the appetizer of jumbo shrimp with chickpea stew, harissa and preserved lemon chermoula.

Debbi Peek’s best known for her interpretations of classic American cocktails over at The Bristol, but now that sister resto Balena has opened in Lincoln Park, she’s charged with creating Italian-influenced elixirs. She recommends drinking her Manlino (see recipe below) of St. George Terrior Gin, Aperol, fresh lemon sour, and club soda, while dining on the roasted rabbit loin stuffed with rabbit sausage and charred ramps. Or, if you prefer something lighter, she suggests going for the bruschetta of oil poached tuna and marinated beans.

Hearty’s French Citrus cocktail paired with shrimp and grits. (Photo: Hearty)

Also new to the scene is Acadia, where bartender Michael Simon works closely with chef/owner Ryan McCaskey to crank out a magical list of mixology favorites. The sophistication of the Electric Gin Gibson (St. George Terroir Gin, shallot and dry vermouth essence, celery bitters, candied pearl onion garnish) harmonizes with the chilled English pea soup of Serrano ham, menthol and mint tea "caviar."

Three Aces, in Little Italy, gets a lot of attention for its rock ‘n’ roll attitude, and we totally understand why. Everyone’s tatted, the music is loud and lively, and the food is bold. Chef Matt Troost’s smoked duck salad of hickory-smoked, orange-cured duck, baby wild arugula, shallots, rhubarb and grilled orange vinaigrette as well as the roasted baby carrots topped with whipped goat cheese, parsley and pistachio gremolata, celery bitters, and saba are pretty out there dishes. Yet bartender Rachael Smith’s creation of Mother's Ruin #2 manages not to overpower or get lost in the mix. It’s a nice combo of Death’s Door gin, fresh lemon juice, sage-infused simple syrup and rhubarb bitters.

The New York mixology duo known as The Tipping Bros. (Tad Carducci and Paul Tanguay) made their mark in Chicago with the buzzworthy cocktail program at Mercadito, so it was no surprise when they did it again with the drinks at Barcito/Tavernita. Here, the sangria is kegged and they assure that it goes well with everything on the Spanish-inspired menu. Their favorites to pair with include the Spanish sobrasadda with cured sausage and quail egg; croquetas with Fermin Iberico ham and saffron aioli; shrimp broquette with hazelnut picada and aioli; and Escalivada with almond romesco and goat cheese.


Here’s the recipe for Debbi Peek’s Manlino cocktail, so you can make it at home:

1 ½ oz St. George Terrior Gin
¾ oz Aperol
1 ½ fresh lemon sour
Club Soda

Directions: Add gin, Aperol and fresh lemon sour; stir. Top with club soda, then garnish with a lemon wheel.