Some like it hot at Hemingway’s
For a brief period in the early ’90s I tended bar at a place on Long Island called the Scotch & Sirloin, an old-school steak and seafood joint on Old Country Road by the Leather Warehouse that the regulars called ‘“the Scotch.’”
I had a customer there who had an odd request ‘— actually I had several customers at this place with odd requests, most notably a probation officer we called ‘“Big Bill’” who insisted I boil his rocks glass before I filled it all afternoon with Jack Daniels and ice, but that, as they say, is a story for another day.
This other customer, whose name and visage I’ve long since forgotten, favored an unusual drink: a double Absolut on the rocks with a splash of Bloody Mary mix.
Curious, I thought the first time he ordered one. It sounded pretty damn good, kind of like a Bloody Martini.
The Bloody Mary is something of an institution back on Long Island, the preferred morning drink of the country club and tennis court set, and at the Scotch we made them with a little bit of clam juice and a celery stalk-scoop of fresh horseradish, which makes it more of a Bloody Caesar, and if memory serves, it was a particularly delectable recipe.
But anything goes with this drink. In New Orleans we used a bit of Tennessee barbecue sauce to give the Bloody Mary texture and spice. I’ve heard of Bloodys made with gazpacho, A1 sauce, chili powder and cumin. There are dozens of variations on this classic cocktail.
And I’ve had ’em all, or at least I’ve tried to: the aforementioned Bloody Caesar; the Bullshot, made with a bit of beef broth in the mix and sometimes served warm; the Bloody Maria, made with tequila instead of vodka; the wasabi-laden Bloody Japanese; the Cajun Mary, with copious amounts of cayenne, and the drink’s blue-collar cousin, the Dirty Red Eye, consisting of cold beer and Bloody Mary Mix with a raw egg floating on top. Never again.
I’ve had ’em garnished with olives, dill pickles, cooked shrimp, pickled okra, spiced string beans, peperoncini, fennel, anchovies and, once, a Band-Aid.
I’ve had ’em as bland as ketchup and as fiery as a scorned woman, thicker than marinara and thinner than water.
And I think I’ve found my new favorite variation of the drink right here in town.
The Tomatopolitan at Hemingway’s very much resembles the drink my old customer on Long Island used to order ‘— essentially a Martini with a splash of Bloody Mary mix ‘— but they elaborated on the concept to produce something that exists a few planes higher.
For one the drink utilizes vodka infused with peppers. It’s absolutely crazy with them: habaÃ±eros, jalapeÃ±os and sweet peppers that general manager John Gardner says marinate in the booze for 48 to 72 hours.
‘“We had the infused vodka and we needed something to push it,’” Gardner says. ‘“What better way to use it than a Bloody Mary?
‘“We don’t let anyone take a [straight] shot of it,’” he continues. ‘“It’s just too hot.’”
Starting off with a signature three-ounce pour, the Tomatopolitan is shaken with the Bloody mix and the strained into a chilled Martini glass. The drink is garnished with jalapeÃ±o-stuffed olives and a spicy pickled string bean. The presentation is magnificent.
And from the very first sip, you know you’re drinking something. The cold, cold vodka with just a blessing of mix, enough to color the drink, has strong tomato and Worcestershire notes, with a vague smoky, anchovy-like flavor at mid-palate. The finish, supercharged by the spices in the mix and the peppered vodka, is powerful enough to make you sweat.
‘“Once [the customers] get over the idea of it being so hot,’” Gardner says, ‘“it seems that everybody starts ordering them.’”
Indeed, on busy nights it’s not uncommon to see a whole row of bar customers enjoying the cocktail, eyes and noses running and taking in breath sharply to cool their tongues, sometimes asking and sometimes begging for a glass of ice water on the side.
‘“I’ll tell ya,’” Gardner says. ‘“On a cool night like tonight, you get a couple of these and sit out on the patio’… that’ll keep you warm.’”
To comment on this story email Brian Clarey at firstname.lastname@example.org.