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Cocktails complete the menu at Trenchermen

A bar built for tippling, tasting and savory-spicy brunch cocktails adds distinction to the beverage program of Trenchermen in Chicago.

The restaurant’s custom-built, rectangular wooden bar, as high as a sushi counter, shouts a dining-with-cocktails message. Each of the long sides fits 13 diners with ample room for plates, flatware and glasses.

“It essentially doubles your real estate, because there is a place you can rest your elbows and have your food and your silverware and a tiny ledge above where your drinks can go,” said beverage director Tona Palomino, former mixology chief of wd~50 restaurant in New York City.

While the Friday evening bar crowd favors snacks and cocktails, Saturday night patrons want more of the imaginative cooking of co-executive chefs Michael and Patrick Sheerin.

“On Saturday, they definitely come for dinner at the bar, which is great to see,” Palomino said.

Guests also fill the bar at Sunday brunch, choosing from cocktails priced at $8 that are lighter, but no less innovative, than the headier offerings priced at $12 during dinner.

“It may be that drinks in the evening are boozier, or more serious, whereas drinks in the morning can be a little lighter, a little sunnier,” said Palomino. They often exhibit savory, spicy and salty nuances as well, he added.

The Bloody Mary was conspicuously absent from Trenchermen’s first brunch cocktail list. Palomino noted that he is not a fan of the prepared tomato juice that customers demand. His answer to the Bloody Mary is a tequila-and-cucumber libation dubbed Better Than Advil.

“I was looking for that vegetal element, that savory quality, that Bloody Mary-ness,”
said Palomino. His brainchild combines tequila, lime juice, simple syrup, cucumber purée, habanero sauce, and brine from kitchen-made jardinière pickles.

Yielding to customer requests, he later introduced a Bloody Mary seasoned with soy sauce, lime, chipotle peppers, and a black garlic purée made in the kitchen. “It’s very rich, very savory, very umami-laden,” Palomino said. “In my mind, the best thing it does is cut through the Bloody Mary mix.”

Access to the chefs’ ingredients is a boon to the bar, noted Palomino, who graduated from the French Culinary Institute in New York City and cooked alongside Michael Sheerin at restaurant Jean-Georges in that city years ago.

Another unusual brunch cocktail is the Funky Chicken. It takes on a sweet, spicy and salty character from an infusion of Mexican lollipops in rye whiskey. The lollipop rye is mixed with lemon juice, simple syrup and the kitchen’s lemon jam, then shaken and topped with hoppy wheat beer. The glass is rimmed with a Mexican mixture of powdered chiles, lime and salt. “It’s light, a little sweet, lollipop-like and also nice and salty and sour,” Palomino said.

His cocktails come in tumblers without stems, deceptively small but holding a generous 5.75 ounces. They resemble old-time liquor glasses. “I loved the esthetics of the glass, but it’s also practical because you can stack them in the froster,” said Palomino. “Storage is always an issue.” 

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