Menu items are designed to tempt you, but oftentimes you come across something that feels more like a dare. A can-this-be-real, how-could-it-even-taste-good creation that tugs at your curiosity and leapfrogs to the top of your must-try checklist.
Case in point: the Grilled Cheese Martini at Beecher’s in New York City.
It’s a name that definitely warrants a double-take. Thing is, you won’t find it on the menu at the Seattle import’s downstairs cocktail lounge, The Cellar. You have to know to order it. (Which, thanks to the internet’s equal opportunist policy when it comes to in-the-know-only information, is not too difficult.)
Now, this is no cop out “grilled cheese martini” that just shoves a wedge of sandwich on the rim of a martini glass and calls it a day. We’re talking about vodka that has literally been infused with a grilled cheese sandwich (using Beecher’s signature cheese, of course). If you’re feeling a little apprehensive about the idea, you’re not alone — general manager Sarah Jennerjahn had a similar reaction when chef-owner Kurt Dammeier first presented her with the idea. But for Dammeier the concept was seemingly pretty straightforward. “Well, just grill up a couple of our Flagship sandwiches until they are perfectly ready to eat and then put them in a container and pour vodka over them,” he explained to her.
Fast-forward to discovering the perfect recipe for a 24-hour infusion, double-filtering the mixture through cheese cloth (how appropriate), and that, says Jennerjahn, is when the fun began. From there crafting the drink was a collaborative effort. Someone mentions tomatoes and bartender Ksenia Stillwell chimes in with the suggestion to make a tomato juice ice cube. How about adding something herbal to the flavor profile? Stillwell has the solution again, recommending muddled basil. And for the finishing touch, balsamic reduction on the rim, Jennerjahn’s idea. Wait — make that almost finishing touch. Coming full circle, the last piece of the puzzle was provided by Dammeier, who thought to add bits of baked, crispy prosciutto to the balsamic garnish.
To answer the question that is no doubt at the tip of your tongue, yes, it tastes… weird. But good-weird, interesting is more like it. And not the backhanded compliment you want to avoid after a date kind of “interesting,” but genuinely something that piques your curiosity. Savory, with just the right amount of sweetness coming through, and hints of basil to round it out. Almost without realizing you’re back for two, three, four more sips just trying to figure it all out. As one savvy taster described it, “with the whole grilled cheese-n-tomato soup effect it’s like you’re six years old again… but legally drinking.”