Philly’s tomato season has officially begun, which means tomato sandwiches, gazpacho, BLTs, and caprese salads are back on the menu. When the ingredients are in their prime, the combination of mozzarella, tomato, and basil — said to have originated in post-WWI Italy as an homage to the Italian flag — can hardly be improved upon. But one Delaware County cocktail bar wanted it in liquid form.
Media’s sleek restaurant/lounge Two Fourteen (214 W. State St.) is less than 18 months old, but beverage director Jeremy Winkler has cycled through at least brand-new 40 cocktails, rotating in fresh creations with each season. He was tinkering with ideas for this summer’s drink list, trying to match up with chef-owner Michael Hackett’s menu, when the thought came to Winkler: “How do I get a light salad flavor into a cocktail?”
It took Winkler 11 or 12 tries before he finalized Two Fourteen’s You Drivin’ Me Caprese ($17), a savory cocktail that’s dry, balanced, and unexpectedly refreshing despite packing 2 ounces of Bacardi and a half-ounce of garlic-infused rum (don’t worry — it’s just a whiff).
This isn’t a cocktail you’ll want to recreate at home. First, the Two Fourteen crew whips up a batch of tomato water, or tomato juice from heirloom, cherry, and grape tomatoes that’s been strained twice, then simmered down with sugar, salt, fresh basil, roasted garlic, oregano, and black pepper. “It almost smells like grandma’s Sunday gravy in here for a day,” Winkler says of tomato-water production. Meanwhile, more roasted garlic goes into Faber rum, a mixture that sit for 10 days.
The other ingredients in the caprese cocktail are more straightforward: There’s a half-ounce of fresh-squeezed lime juice, a quarter-ounce of simple syrup, the Bacardi white rum, a few leaves of fresh basil, and a splash of oil from a container of marinated fresh mozzarella balls. Once Winkler compiles everything together, he gives it a hard shake and double-strains it into a Nick & Nora glass. It’s garnished with a speared sphere of mozz.
Winkler says You Drivin’ Me Caprese is gaining ground, but has yet to come close to the best-sellers of the summer menu. That’s a tie between Two Fourteen’s spicy summer margarita (the Fuego Melon, spiked with habanero-poblano-infused tequila) and the Dice Dice Baby, a bartenders’ choice option that’s proved more popular than Winkler ever anticipated. Customers roll three dice branded with spirits, flavor profiles, and techniques, and Two Fourteen’s bartenders respond accordingly, even when the bar is at its busiest. “It’s a nightmare some nights but it is the most fun that we have at the bar.”