Guilty pleasures

Tookie's Bean Burger

Tookie’s bean burger

For the last four days I’ve been enjoying some downtime in Houston while I recover from putting in two solid weeks of 12-hour workdays. I’m afraid all of my family in Texas consider me something of a snob, since whenever I’m there I fuss about not having access to my usual hippie grocery co-op or a large selection of highball and old-fashioned glasses in the cabinet. Still, I have to admit that Houston has its own charms—especially now that it’s February, and I don’t have to deal with the swampy, 100-plus-degree weather of summer.

So, in no particular order, here are some of the guilty pleasures I’ve been enjoying for the last four days.

1. Football … on a 60-inch TV no less

Superbowl on the big screen TV

I grew up watching football, but I haven’t been able to follow it properly for years since we don’t own a TV. So I was more than a little excited when I discovered that I would be at my parents’ house, which is equipped with a spanking-new 60-inch high-definition TV, for the Superbowl. Of course I made cocktails for everyone who gathered at the house for the game.

2. A yard full of fresh mint … and beautiful peaches in the freezer.

Mint in the back yard

I can’t grow mint to save my life. Everyone says it grows like a weed, but I have managed to kill it in pretty much every way possible. But at my parents’ house, the yard  is always overgrown with the mint and basil, no matter the season. Add in the beautiful peaches my mom froze last summer, and I had the makings for one of my favorite cocktails, the Kentucky Colonel, which was a huge hit at the Superbowl party. More on this drink later, when peaches return to the farmer’s market in San Francisco.

Kentucky Colonel ingredients

3. Tookie’s!

I grew up going to the roadhouse Tookie’s for hamburgers, onion rings, and old-fashioned cherry Cokes. Though it closed a handful of years ago, burger aficionados—and especially my mom—were thrilled when it reopened recently

Eating lunch there made me happy that I had been subsisting on veggies dipped in homemade hummus and bowls of steel-cut oatmeal for the previous few days, because there was no way I was going to pass up  ordering my favorite burger from my teenage days, the Squealer. Putting your average bacon burger to shame, the Squealer is made from beef and bacon ground together into a decadently awesome patty.

Tookie's Squealer

My mom’s choice is always the Bean Burger (shown at the top of this post), a hefty beef burger stuffed with refried beans, salsa, cheese, and Fritos. It’s totally too much, and yet somehow just right.

4. Shooting heavy artillery at the gun range.

Mom with a Glock at the gun range

Until this week, I had shot a gun exactly  once, a relatively small .22. My parents, however, being proper Texans, have a concealed handgun license, and own a Glock 17. Being your usual San Francisco liberal, I have complicated feelings about my parents’ owning a gun, but when they suggested we go to the gun range, they didn’t have to ask twice.

The CocktailHostess at the gun range

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The land of Milk & Honey

Michael McIlroy's Right Hand cocktail

Last November I was thrilled to have the chance to go to New York City for some meetings with a client. I hadn’t been to the city in more than ten (!) years, since long before I became a serious cocktail geek, so I was especially excited to check out as many of the city’s famous speakeasies as my liver—and my busy work schedule—allowed.

I was only able to make it to three of places on my long list (PDT, the Raines Law Room, and Milk & Honey), but Milk & Honey was the one I was most excited about, and it didn’t disappoint.

After making reservations online, I met up with my friend AnneLise Sorensen, who took all of the pictures in this post (thanks, AnneLise!). We walked down a gritty little alleyway on the Lower East Side and knocked on the door to get into this retro cocktail fantasyland, a tiny, dimly lit speakeasy where instead of looking at a menu you tell the bartender what you’re hankering for and something ineffably delicious shows up in front of you.

We sat at the bar, of course, so we could see the bartender in action as he worked his magic.

First I asked for a cocktail using aged rum, one of my favorite spirits, and I got a Right Hand, a sort of rum variation of a Negroni, if you want to think of it that way, made from Matusalem Gran Reserva rum, Campari, Carpano Antico vermouth, and a few dashes of Bittermen’s Xocolatl Mole Bitters. If you like, you can find the exact proportions here …

Pouring the Carpano Antico vermouth

After that I asked for another spiritous cocktails—with no fresh muddled fruit or citrus to get in the way of the other ingredients—and our bartender came up with a Greenpoint, a revelation in a glass made from rye, sweet vermouth, yellow Chartreuse, and two different types of orange bitters. Again, last I checked you could find the precise ratios here.

Pouring the yellow Chartreuse

Our bartender, Michael McIlroy, could not have been more charming, patiently answering my incessant questions about all the drinks he was making and chatting with me about cocktail geekery and the best places to drink in New York and San Francisco. And, if I’m not mistaken, he actually invented the two cocktails that I drank, which proves that his palate is as well developed as his gracious sense of hospitality.

Michael McIlroy

He even called ahead to the Raines Law Room and hooked me up with one of the bartenders, there, ensuring I got in without waiting in line with the other thirsty folks hanging around outside. He tells me that Milk & Honey will be moving to another location before too long, but a speakeasy will remain at the current location, and he and another of the M&H bartenders will be behind the stick. It will be called Attaboy, he says, and undoubtedly it will be my first cocktail stop next time I’m in town.