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Photos by Chris Casella

Bar Bet: Mustard

While writing for a local magazine may not afford me the unique opportunities that a national publication may provide, I have had my fair share of adventures, and encounters while doing my job. I don’t have a hard hitting interview lined up with the president, and I’m not booking a flight to report from the front lines of any war zones, but I got to order off the 1950s menu at The Top, and I did get to spend a couple days with some LARPers one time. And let’s not forget about the time I got to eat a pairing of fried chicken livers and champagne from the top of a tree stump. Occasionally my fascination with booze, and my penchant for writing about it has gotten me into some unique situations … or at least some unique hangovers. With any luck I will forcefully regale my grandchildren with stories someday in the future. This will be one of those stories.

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“Did I ever tell you about the time I got into the basement of  The Athletic Club of Columbus?” The wild eyed children will undoubtedly ooo and ahh with anticipation.

Look I know it might not be that cool to some of you who have attended weddings there, or are maybe current members, and on some level I don’t even think it’s that cool. Like many of my life pursuits, the main reason I care about getting into the ACC is the simple fact that someone told me I wasn’t allowed to. In fact, multiple people have told me I wasn’t allowed to. I could, of course, pay to become a member, but while I have been assured it is more “affordable than I might think,” it would be too easy to just pay my way in. I want to be invited in. On many a Tuesday evening at Curio, now former head bartender Grant Bain used to share stories, and legends of the times had in the prestigious ACC, but yet I was not allowed to visit him unless I was a guest of a member. One time he even brought official ACC leftover chips and guacamole to Curio, and that guac was so good you guys. You don’t even know.

This longing only intensified after I heard about their recently renovated bowling alley and bar in the basement. I don’t even really like bowling, but I had this image of my face with a red line through it on a sign that said “NO CHRIS ALLOWED” affixed to each of the lanes and I wanted so badly to get drunk and bowl in that basement. Bowling is supposed to be for everyone. Even Chris.

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Then on a warm day in July 2015 my whole life changed.

But before I get to that let me backtrack. In last month’s Bar Bet, Chris Spinato of Sidebar challenged Christina Ganzler to make a cocktail using mustard as an ingredient. Ganzler recently relocated from Washington, D.C. and was working at Bar Louie. Bar Louie is a fine bar, and I was excited to visit and try the cocktail. Around this time I heard rumblings that Bain would be leaving the ACC for a position with Watershed Distillery. ‘Who would replace him?’ I thought. ‘It’s too bad he never got challenged for Bar Bet while he was at the ACC,’ I also thought. At this exact moment, Mars, Saturn, Jupiter, and some random moons aligned, and Ganzler messaged me to tell me that she had a new job. What job? Oh you know, just your run of the mill head bartender at the Athletic Club of Columbus. Open the doors! Charlie’s coming to the chocolate factory! And I’m gonna valet my Nissan when I get there (edit: there is no valet at 1 p.m., on a Tuesday. I parked at a meter.)

Don’t worry, I won’t bore you with the rest of the story about how I was carried victoriously on the shoulders of 100 cheering people down the steps to the basement and into that sweet bowling alley—I’ll save that one for the grandchildren. Just know that I got in. Chris was allowed.

With that out of the way, let’s talk about Ganzler, and her drink, which happened to be fantastic. We arrived to find her mixing up a fresh citrus foam with an immersion blender, which is always a good thing to arrive to. She offered up some house made limoncello-flavored granita to enjoy while we waited, and I laughed as I thought back to my simple life before the ACC and before limoncello granita. Ganzler, in only her second week behind the bar at the ACC, leaves no question she’s a natural. She left D.C. and a job at Daniel Boulud’s DBGB Kitchen and Bar to come check out the emerging Columbus cocktail scene, and I am confident in saying that we are lucky to have her. As evidence of this, I present to you the Dabbling Duck, Christina’s duck fat-washed, foam-topped, brown sugar caviar-garnished, rye-based monster of a cocktail featuring mustard seeds and whole grain mustard. The inclusion of whole grain mustard in addition to mustard seed came after Spinato warned her that “if it didn’t include anything from a jar” it was cheating.

The rye definitely served to amp up the savory notes and oily mouthfeel in a drink that could have been a little too sweet with such a large helping of brown sugar. The citrus zest and orange juice livened the drink considerably and added some needed acidity. And of course—the mustard. No need to worry about cheating, it was definitely present, in all its mustardy glory, but the flavor worked well in the drink, and if it wasn’t a listed ingredient I’m not sure most people would be able to immediately identify it. Overall this cocktail was as impressive in its scope as it was in execution. And I would recommend it to anyone … if you can get in.

Now that I’ve checked the ACC off my list, I’m off to Cameron Mitchell’s M to enjoy a cocktail featuring mushrooms prepared by Nigal Vann. Here’s hoping I get to valet the Nissan. See you next month.

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