When you spend an entire week in New Orleans, there will be cocktails. Lots and lots of cocktails. Here are two versions of the Pimm’s Cup, a ubiquitous tall drink that seems perfectly in tune with the lifestyle and weather of the city.
There are few things more refreshing and satisfying than a Pimm’s Cup. Yet for a long time the famous long drink languished in relative obscurity here in the U.S., favored by older folk (or the English, from whence the drink derived, and where it is still dominant at venues such as Wimbledon, the Chelsea Flower Show, and the Royal Regatta.). Little known facts: Pimm’s Cup #1, is the only remaining version of seven different spirit-based concoctions that were once quite popular; alas the others are now extinct.
The Pimm’s Cup #1 was originally created in the 1820s in London. It was the fashion of the time for food establishments and hotels to feature their own particular house blend—or cups, as they were called. Pimm’s Cup, essentially a pre-mixed gin cocktail to be served with fruits and sodas of choice, was so popular it became the preferred version of the country. So the bottled version of Pimm’s is now a base for a standard tall drink that could include whatever seasonal fruits were available. In English tradition, there is almost always cucumber involved.
Craft bartenders are always on the search for old drinks to revive and new drinks to create. They are not restricted to either the gin of Pimm’s #1 or the standard limitations of the original recipe (heavy on cucumber). Creativity abounds.
New Orleans is quite comfortable with Pimm’s Cups; you can find one on almost any drinks list these days, and if not you simply ask the bartender for one. The various versions range from simple and fruity to complex and multi-layered. The very nature of the drink allows the bartender to take the cup in any direction desired (and a handy go-cup allows the drinker to take the Pimm’s Cup in any direction desired in the Quarter). As examples, here are two; one from the French Quarter and one from Uptown.
Pimm’s Cup at the Redfish Grille
Enter the French Quarter from Canal Street on Bourbon and the first restaurant you’ll come to is the Red Fish Grill (the Krystal across the street doesn’t count, guys, unless you’re seriously hungover). Red Fish is a casual, easy-going fish/seafood/Cajun/Creole place with a surprisingly good chef’s staff—the sort of place that features the fresh catch of the day seared on a woodfire grill, or jambalaya, or BBQ Shrimp and Cheesy Grits with Andouille.
The bar action is competent. The cocktails lean toward the expected generics but they are well made, honest, and not treacle-sweet.
The Pimm’s Cup at Red Fish Grille is in that vein: light, refreshing, tasty, balanced between sweet and tart, and a pleasant and easy way to slide into a plate of spicy seafood. When the heat index is at 105F and the humidity is almost as high, this Pimm’s Cup may not be exceptional, but it certainly is satisfying. Here the Pimm’s Cup #1 is enhanced with Tanqueray Gin and sparkling wine rather than soda, along with lemon juice, cucumber and whatever seasonal fruit the bartender wishes to use.
Sancho Pimm at Patois
Patois is one of the leading restaurants in New Orleans, a standout in a city that is in the midst of a culinary revival. Yes, the basic ingredients of New Orleans and the Gulf are there, and they are incorporated into the cuisine; but it doesn’t end there, for the Chef puts together some startling combinations and presentations.
Patois is Uptown, nestled in the rarefied atmosphere of the upper-class suburb, in a former cottage that has been converted to a small bar and restaurant. It is quiet and charming, a cross between a cozy, casual neighborhood place and upscale dining.
The drinks at Patois are as delightful as the food. Creative, without being outrageous or over-precious, they engage both whimsy and appetite and they usually add a slightly unexpected twist…again, nothing awkward or obtrusive, but an ingredient that challenges the expected and opens new taste vistas.
The Sancho Pimm at Patois is irresistible from the description alone, gorgeous when it reaches the table, and a full-flavor burst when it gets to your mouth. It’s a Pimm’s Cup #1 with an edge to it, composed of Bristow Gin, Pimm’s Cup, grapefruit (or satsuma). lemon…and jalapeño!
Pepper heat is one of the two most dangerous of fatal attractions to bartenders (in case you’re wondering, adding Islay scotch smoke is the other); any good craft bartender plays with capsicum and pyrazines, but most realize it is at best difficult to bring those into balance with other ingredients and at worst capable of overwhelming every other element.
At Patois, they execute it perfectly. The jalapeño is used sparingly to give only a hint of heat, just enough to add some snap, a lovely green streak of flavor with only a hint of fire. Who knew grapefruit and hot pepper worked so well together? But take care: if you make this at home, be stingy in the use of jalapeño. Show restraint, because it’s painfully easy to overdo it. Patois manages to do it precisely right, making one of the best Pimm’s Cup I’ve ever had.
At Patois, you can go for the food or go for the drink. Or both. Any way you go, you’ll be glad you did.
Of course, there’s nothing stopping you from going to your local liquor purveyor, picking up a couple of bottles of Pimm’s Cup #1. and doing your own research into what constitutes a good house cocktail. It’s really the best research you can do, because you and your guests get to consume the results.