We're just as obsessed with the season's fleeting produce as the next person, but there's only so much pea-morel toast one can possible eat. Which is why this year, as the market stands start overflowing with the best spring has to offer, we're thinking outside the crudités platter and using them for a happy hour instead.
It's no secret that vegetables roll deep in many bartenders' arsenals. "Bartenders are continually looking for ingredients that bring an extra depth of bitter and botanical notes to a drink," Michael Cecelski of New York neighborhood gem The Red Cat says. And though he doesn't support turning every vegetable into a happy hour special ("If it seems like a weird idea, it probably is"), his favorites to use include cucumbers, peppers and beets. Another ingredient he's big on are vibrant, bulbous, springy radishes, which he serves in a gin, Cocchi Americano and citrus juice cocktail called the Red King (see the recipe).
While we want to use radishes as a salad garnish or toast topper, Cecelski is fond of the roots in cocktails for their "delicate but raw flavor with just a hint of spice" and the brightness they bring. When pairing the drink with your meal, Cecelski suggests keeping things on the lighter side. "We're doing a pea salad currently with four kinds of peas, pea tendrils, hazelnuts and ricotta salata, and the Red King absolutely sings with that dish." He also says it pairs well with fluke crudo, or the calamari on the restaurant's menu.
Then there are spring onions, the young, mild alliums that taste equally delicious whether breaded in cornmeal and fried or broiled and served with crispy guanciale. In Denver, Beast + Bottle's Jon Feuersanger makes a smooth, Gibson-like martini using both spring onion-infused vodka and pickled ramps (see the recipe).
The slender springy versions are less pungent than your everyday onion, making them a surprisingly drinkable go-to, and pickling is the best way to preserve the season's wild onion darling. Ramps, spring onions' popular kid cousin, are back and making guest appearances on menus across the country, especially in New York, where you'll find them on a crescenza cheese pizza at Cookshop, charred ramp flatbread at Charlie Bird and with homemade pasta at Vic's.
We round out the happy hour trifecta of produce-forward cocktails with a spring pea mojito of our own (see the recipe). While we'll never turn down a hunk of bread topped with smashed peas and ricotta, gently muddled peas with a handful of fresh mint make the perfect drink for easing into the warmer weather ahead.
So put down the ramp pesto and pea-studded frittata—have a drink instead.