Culinary cocktails a healthy trend

“Hey, who took my basil?” a chef might complain, and the answer could be the bartender. Restaurants are raising the bar on the culinary offerings on cocktail menus with a “farm to table” philosophy filling glassware, too.

“The demand for fresh, seasonal food from the kitchen carries over to the bar,” notes Nancy Kruse, Atlanta-based menu trends analyst and contributor to Nation’s Restaurant News.

At Ammazza, fresh basil is just as likely to end up in a crafted cocktail as on the restaurant’s Napoletana-style wood-fired pizzas. At Holeman & Finch Public House, mixologists are masters at blending bits of citrus and a hint of honey in cocktails with intriguing names such as “She” made with mescal, dry curacao liqueur, grapefruit, lime and tonic.

The cocktail menu at the Optimist raids the kitchen, too, with potent potables such as the gin-based “Mother of Pearl” spiced with celery salt, black pepper, fennel frond and celery leaf.

In Chicago, the high art of highballs made with produce and herbs is perhaps best displayed at chef Grant Achatz’s the Aviary, where bartenders give cocktails four-star restaurant attention as they whisk, whir, stir, foam and shake spirits in what they call “a state-of-the-art drink kitchen.” There’s even an ice chef on staff to create just the right cube, ball, shard or snow to complement the cocktail.

Drink your vegetables

A collection of culinary cocktails is on the menu with spa treatments at the Old Edwards Inn in Highlands, N.C. Spa-goers can sip refreshing blends of beet juice, broccoli, cucumber, herbs and edible flowers with a little kick from vodka, tequila, rum, brandy or moonshine.

Because the drinks are made with vitamin- and antioxidant-rich fresh fruit and vegetables, they could be considered a health and beauty treatment, and each calls for only an ounce or ounce and half of spirits.

“We are trying to focus on flavor and nutrition with less alcohol,” says executive chef Johannes Klapdohr.

To your health

Since these hand-crafted and often pretty pricey cocktails are meant to be sipped and savored in a sophisticated setting, registered dietitians like the trend because it encourages moderation in alcohol consumption.

Dietitian Rachel Begun, spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, says they’re drinks with benefits: “Cocktails made from fresh fruits, vegetables and herbs do deliver nutrients and are better options than drinks made from processed mixers both from a taste and nutrition perspective.”

There’s even a research study from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service that shows treating strawberries and blackberries with alcohol boosts the fruit’s antioxidant activity.

Registered dietitian Cynthia Chandler is serving a holiday herb cocktail at her Thanksgiving Day feast made with tequila, lime juice and fresh sage.

“Sage is a member of the mint family,” she says, “and is one of the oldest herbs used for both culinary and medicinal purposes, and sage has been used to help digest heavy meals.”

So here’s a toast to your health to help kick off the holiday season.