Posted on | July 21, 2014
Written by | Alia Akkam
Stefan Casseus is the bar manager of Heartwood, the new restaurant in New York’s Chelsea neighborhood from Bradford Thompson, Mark Fiorentino and Nick Mautone. The pies cranked out of the wood-burning oven may be the stars of the joint, but the extensive cocktail list also draws in locals.
THE BEVERAGE NETWORK: Heartwood is first and foremost a neighborhood restaurant, devoted to simple, satisfying food. How do the drinks complement the dishes?
STEFAN CASSEUS: Our cocktail program tries to embody the same ‘Lusty and Rustic’ offerings of the kitchen. With the foundation of fresh is best, our list of 25 signature drinks incorporates the same ingredients the kitchen has at their disposal. The tomatillos used in our Bloody Vulcan are the same ones you will find in the chilled shrimp or pan-roasted local cod. The tomatoes for our tomato salad are marinated in our mostarda shrub.
TBN: The seasonal tonics seem particularly culinary driven.
SC: We wanted to provide something that balances out our food offerings. Our guests have shown great loyalty to the Veronique. With the delicate balance of black grapes, elderflower, the citric acid from fresh lemon and the kick of vodka, it is easy enough on the stomach for more than a few. Then, the Anti-Inflammatory has turmeric, pineapple, jalapeño heat and tequila. They are both very different, but easy on the palate.
TBN: One section of the cocktail list, Sunday Bloody Sunday, is devoted to different renditions of the brunch-time classic. Are they a tough sell beyond the weekend?
SC: They are not your typical Bloody Marys, and that exotic appeal is what we strive for. I agree that selling a mid-week Bloody Mary is not easy, and by no means are they flying off the bar, but on the weekend that is a different story. With five unique offerings, our loyal clientele are more than taken care of in terms of variety. Our twist on the Pickle Back [fresh red tomato juice, dill pickle juice, pickled okra, bourbon] and the Bloody Vulcan [jalapeno-infused tequila, tomatillo, cilantro, chipotle chile] are the most popular.
TBN: Shrubs are also getting some nice play on the menu. Are these a hit with customers?
SC: Nick Mautone, our managing partner and my mentor, grew up in a household where vinegar was used as a condiment and always present on the dinner table. The classic aspect of the shrub is now coming back into fashion with the savvy drinker, and our clientele has responded more than favorably to our five shrubs. Most notable are the Wandering Poet, which incorporates rice wine vinegar, lychee purée and agave; and our Strawberry Fields, with balsamic vinegar, fresh lemon and in-house berry syrup.
TBN: There are a number of mocktails and from-scratch sodas on the menu, too. Do you think they help ease guests into trying new flavors?
SC: There is always a demand for non-alcoholic beverages. The ingredients our bar has at its disposal allow us to create unique drinks that the guest can experience. I am always more than happy to guide a guest away from a club soda when I have rosemary, mango and jalapeño on my bar.
TBN: In general, do customers come in desiring tried and true drinks and then you try to help them explore the menu?
SC: We will create anything the guest desires. Our goal is not to convince, but to guide our guests in a direction which will make their experience much more enjoyable. Since our opening we have had an overwhelming number of requests for Sidecars. This traditional classic is not on our list but we are more than happy to make it. As a foundation, our bar can guide the guest from there.