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Cocktails for Carnivores

Ham and cheese is no longer just for eating; try one of these meaty concoctions for a true liquid lunch.
Monday Aug 18, 2008.     By Stacy Warden
Centerstage Chicago Nightlife City Guide Arts

It's not just Chicago's chefs who are getting crafty in the kitchen; some of the city's top mixologists are busy back there, too. Using savory ingredients like bacon, fennel, snap peas and black pepper, these drinks are bringing the term 'liquid lunch' to a whole new level.

The Ham and Cheese cocktail at <A HREF=/restaurants/nacional27.html>Nacional 27</a>
photo: courtesy of Nacional 27
Ham and cheese ain't just for eating anymore.
Ham and Cheese at Nacional 27
Manager and Master Mixologist Adam Seger loves Iberico ham. He also loves Hennessey Cognac. After experimenting with these ingredients, Seger found a way to combine his two loves in one large cocktail glass. First, he infuses Pato Negro with Hennessey Cognac and lets it get all good and liquored up for a fortnight. Once the liquor is ready, Seger adds fresh lemon juice and Caribbean cinnamon-spiked honey to create a salty, smoky and slightly sweet drink called the Ham and Cheese, $14. Seger says the cocktail makes a great aperitif but can also be paired with other savory foods. His taste for fresh herbs and vegetables may not trump his pork passion, but Seger certainly holds his own with potent produce, too. Check out the snap-pea-irinha with muddled lime and snap peas, gin, simple syrup and fresh-cracked pepper.

Baconcello at Osteria Via Stato
It's true what they say about bacon: it tastes good with everything. And at this downtown restaurant, it pairs exceptionally well with vodka and granny smith apples in a little concoction called the Baconcello. The pork-fueled drink, another Adam Seger original (is there any ingredient this guy can't conquer?), was inspired by a live bacon-belly carving. Served in a demi flute, and garnished with a thin round of oven-dried pancetta, the baconcello is just as lovely as it is delicious, $6.95. The bar recommends ordering this one as an aperitif, but says that it also pairs well with Osteria Via Stato's small plates, particularly the white pizza with olive oil. For a truly unique taste, try it with the restaurant's strawberry-rhubarb crustata; the sweet-and-salty combo is too good to resist. Osteria also has a little somethin' savory for vegetarians with its watermelon-black pepper fennel gastrotail, made with house-infused vodka and white wine syrup.

<A HREF=/music/clubs/uncommon-ground-grace.html>Uncommon Ground</a>'s bacon bloody mary Want some bacon with your bloddy mary?
Bacon Bloody Mary at Uncommon Ground
Uncommon Ground's bloody marys have always been great, but lately bacon is putting the original tipple to shame. General Manager and Master Mixologist Nick Luedde gives this classic brunch drink a meaty makeover with hickory-smoked bacon. Luedde infuses bacon straight into vodka, giving the liquor a hearty, smoked flavor and aroma. The pork infusion holds its own against Luedde's homemade bloody-mary mix and tastes just as well on its own as it does with pairings from Uncommon Ground's brunch menu. The fancy drinks get poured straight into martini glasses and rimmed with salty prosciutto powder. Stop in on a weekend when the bacon bloody mary is only $5 or indulge during the week and pay double.

The De la Merce at Mercat
photo: courtesy of Mercat a la Planxa
Mercat's De la Merce is full of fresh regional ingredients.
De la Merce at Mercat a la Planxa
Beverage Director and Master Mixologist Jude Le Bourhis pulls his imbibing inspiration straight from the streets of Barcelona. Named after one of the city's largest markets, the De la Merce pays tribute to its roots by bringing together fresh regional ingredients. Le Bourhis' combination of pepper-infused vodka, bloody-mary mix, lemon juice and Guinness packs just enough spice to hold up to its skewered-meat-and-anchovy garnish. And if that's not enough spice, he also mixes up a caliente with cayenne pepper. Can't handle the heat? Try Mercat's fruit-fueled el bolero with tequila, orange liquor, fresh lime and avocado.


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