It’s National Bloody Mary Day, and what a great choice January 1st is for this national recognition of a classic bar drink, renowned as a remedy for hangovers.
In honor of the day, this writer worked with a secret team of locals who fanned out during the week between Christmas and New Year’s to find the best Bloody Mary in old town Alexandria. Please note that no chefs or food or drink professionals were in the group–these were purely rank amateurs who happen to live in the area and like the drink and volunteered.
To prepare, the Team did some basic research based on the classic Mr. Boston’s recipe with a look to the tradition from Harry’s Bar in Paris, where the drink was supposedly invented in 1921 for an expatriate clientele that included Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald. The Harry’s Bar recipe emphatically declares “no celery salt” and uses fresh tomato juice, but frankly recipes vary. The Mr. Boston’s seemed most typical. http://glowbass.com/vodka-in-national/ask-mr-boston-classic-cocktails-vermouth
After some basic research and sampling, the Team decided to judge the drinks on a scale of one to five based on the following criteria:
- Freshness and taste–was fresh tomato juice used, or was a mix the basis?
- Seasoning–was the drink too salty, too lemony, too loaded with celery salt, or not enough of any?
- Presentation–did the garnish work? Was the correct glass used? How chilled was the drink?
- Alcohol–quality and quantity of vodka?
- And, finally but not least, service .The server/bartender can make all the difference in how a drink is perceived and the Team felt that this should be, just like the tip, a good 20% of the evaluation, although some argued for more weight for this category.
About eighteen restaurants and bars were visited. Most used mixes and most had adequate drinks. But some did stand out and after a lengthy discussion session, the Team agreed on two Bloody Marys as tops for Old Town.
In first place, (not surprising) was the Bloody Mary served at the bar at the Morrison House, http://morrisonhouse.com . Their drink, a version of the classic Bloody Mary, ranked first in all categories. This is not surprising given the Morrison House Grille’s emphasis on classic bistro food and fresh ingredients as well as their reputation as a four star restaurant. As for environment, the bar is intimate and lovely, one of the nicer in Old Town. Their version of the Bloody Mary was fresh and not too spicy or salty–closest to the classic recipes that the group sampled. It should be noted, however, that their drinks are not cheap.
Second, the outcome of a lively discussion, was the Bloody Mary served at the Overwood ,http://theoverwood.com located in the old Crilley Warehouse about a block from the Torpedo Factory.
The Overwood, self-described as a “Wood-Fired American Kitchen” is a bright, comfortable place to go, perfect for blue jeans on a Sunday afternoon. It’s affordable and a good option for budget-conscious individuals. Their version of the Bloody Mary was not so classic. It’s much spicier which matches their food, although it did not get top ratings for presentation as it was served with a lime. (This last was highly debated.)
Frankly, Overwoods in the last year doesn’t have a consistent reputation for service or food, but those members of the team who had appetizers and Bloody Mary’s were pleased, which impacted the outcome. One highly recommended pairing with the Bloodly marry is Overwood’s appetizer, Fried Green Tomatoes with Piquillo Cheese–a nicely complex mix with the Bloody Mary. Were they to serve a more traditional Bloody Mary, it would pair well with their Salmon Bruschetta with Goat Cheese and Capers. The sweetness of the salmon, the tart of the goat cheese and lemon capers would go well with the classic drink.
Both places got extremely high marks for bar service–which may have made the difference, as individual bartenders may vary Bloody Mary recipes or staff may rotate. One may get a great Bloody Mary once at a restaurant and then after a change in staff, never again get the same drink. (The team is discussing a follow up visit to see if results vary.)
In third place? Since the group couldn’t agree, they voted on the following home-made concoction, imbibed by the team while making their final deliberations.
Readers of this article are invited to comment on their favorite Bloody Mary spots–or recipes, but in the interim, here’s how to make this non-traditional but highly recommended version of the Bloody Mary for lazy Sunday mornings at home. Using organic V8 http://campbellwellness.com adds complexity to the flavor but does make this a non-traditional Bloody Mary.
It’s best to make this the night before, and left to chill overnight in the refrigerator so that the ingredients can marry.
Start with a classic 2 quart glass pitcher with a lip for pouring, chilled
2-3 cups cracked ice
1 quart Organic V8 http://campbellwellness.com
Juice of two lemons, freshly squeezed (organic is always recommended)
Two teaspoons celery seed — NOT salt — for texture and flavor
Two tablespoons Worcestershire sauce (recommended is the classic Leaperrins http://leaperrins.com)
Two teaspoons Tabasco http://www.tabasco.com
One to two teaspoons Chipotle chili seasoning (optional) This adds a nice touch of sweetness to the heat.
Sea salt — from a grinder, to tast
Ground, coarse black pepper, to taste–use traditional black peppercorn for flavor and texture
1 to 1 1/2 cup of vodka (try organic for a change, http://rainvodka.com) or stay with a traditional vodka such as Ketel One http://ketelone.com
Mix all, cover the pitcher, and let the flavors marry for a good 12 hours–the next day serve in a chilled glass over ice. Garnish with a wedge of lemon or length of celery, and enjoy. Recommended with a classic omelet for a high protein, high comfort brunch. Cheers!
And Happy New Year!