Posted on | October 31, 2012
Written by | Alia Akkam
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania native Aimee Olexy elevated Philadelphia’s BYOB scene when she opened the Society Hill restaurant Django back in 2001. Today, in partnership with Stephen Starr, she brings seasonal-minded dining to new heights at Talula’s Garden. Here, sustainable wine and sophisticated cocktails are just as important as the farmers’ market greens and artisanal cheese.
THE BEVERAGE NETWORK: Philadelphia is known for BYOB restaurants yet there are many vibrant wine lists and cocktail menus as well. How do you approach your beverage program?
AIMEE OLEXY: I sit down and think about what we want to serve, what customers are interested in and what is current. I love talking to producers, asking them how we can begin serving their wine.
TBN: What is the inspiration for selecting your wines?
AO: My starting ground comes from personal experiences, because as a restaurant, we want to share the personality of our team and staff. Traveling to different regions like the southwest of France, California and New York has inspired my knowledge. I would keep scrapbooks from my travels to vineyards and turn to them when I wanted to have their wines on our menu.
TBN: Do you see your wine list as a platform for earth-conscious wines?
AO: As with our food, we want to bring producers that practice good farming to the forefront. We want our wines to be a catalyst of tableside discussion between both the guests and our staff.
TBN: What are some of the wines you have introduced that seem to be especially popular with your diners?
AO: The Millbrook Cabernet Franc from New York is a great varietal and appellation; the family farmed wines from the tiny producer Va La Vineyards in Pennsylvania; and the Soos Creek “Sundance” from Columbia Valley, Washington, which has great texture and juiciness. I also want to return faith back to the elegance of Chardonnay with two great wines on our list: Lioco from Sonoma and Bergstrom Old Stones from the Willamette Valley.
TBN: Anything new you’re excited about?
AO: Wines from Georgia and Greece. There are some great food-friendly wines coming out of these regions, bringing value back to the guest as well.
TBN: Beyond the wine list, you also have devised a cocktail menu that pays mind to the seasons. How do you think your wine knowledge has helped inform your cocktails?
AO: Just as with wine, cocktails should have real punch and make an impact: full flavored, higher alcohol with a more petite serving. We create them to be food-friendly and exciting to the palate; lots of high acid and juicy fruit with freshness.
TBN: Any cocktails on the fall menu you are particularly excited about?
AO: The Loner. It is a take on a Cranberry Smash featuring wonderful hand-harvested cranberries from New Jersey with rye, black walnut bitters and fresh fruit. We also have our version of a Sidecar with local Art in the Age’s [ginger] Snap, brandy and a cinnamon-sugar rim. The Haymaker, a muddled pear cooler, is also a great representation of fall, featuring pear vodka with citrus and clove.
TBN: For a restaurant that is so wine-centric how do you encourage guests to enter cocktail territory?
AO: Like everything we do, we keep things changing, which reflects our inspiration to the guests. We believe in the elegance of our cocktails and try to keep them simply understated. One example is The Purist, our margarita made with tequila, lime, agave and spiced salt, full of freshness and flavor.
TBN: How do you think the definition of hospitality has evolved since you first embarked on Django?
AO: My principle is to connect with the staff and our diners. Their stories, travels and palates inform our view of hospitality. Through our menus we are constantly creating a strong connection and sense of dialogue.