While I love a modern, innovative drink that surprises me with wild ingredients, there’s something about a classic cocktail that truly speaks to my heart. For starters, I’m drawn to the idea that some of these recipes have been around since before Prohibition, and remain largely unchanged. I also like thinking that I’m drinking a cocktail that my parents might also have enjoyed while sitting at their favorite bar many years ago. Imagine how happy I was to learn that the drink menu at Aldine Restaurant, a very cool second story walk-up on Chestnut Street in Philadelphia, is comprised almost exclusively of classic cocktails. We had dinner there a few weeks ago, and I recently stopped back in to talk with Zeq Rudy who is responsible for Aldine‘s bar program.
Since Aldine is a restaurant whose food menu focuses on small plates made with local and in-house ingredients, it’s not surprising to learn that the cocktail menu follows the same philosophy. As Rudy explained to me, the drinks on Aldine’s menu may be based on recipes that have been around forever, but the spirits used in those drinks are being produced by distillers local to the Philadelphia area, many of whom have been in the business for just a few years. Additionally, a number of the secondary ingredients used in Aldine‘s cocktails are made by Rudy himself. He currently has on hand sweet and dry vermouths, a lillet blanc, and an amaretto, all of which are homemade. Rudy described the thought process at Aldine as being a constant learning experience for everyone involved. If only local ingredients are to be used, then both the kitchen and bar need to learn what those ingredients can do and what brings out the best in them. That experience is then passed down to the guests and we’re also given the opportunity to learn. For example, I had the chance to try 2 drinks made with the homemade lillet: a French 75, pictured above, and a Vesper, below. Both were excellent! Rudy makes his lillet with wormwood, so it has the bitter quinine element that was called for in the original recipe for a Vesper. It gave both cocktails a profoundly different taste, as did the local spirits.
Rudy’s own personal philosophy as a bartender revolves around making guests feel comfortable about their drink options. He feels as though the classic cocktail selection helps to achieve that comfort level, but he’s willing to make just about anything a guest might ask for. He particularly enjoys working with the person who has no idea what they might want. By asking them a series of questions he can usually determine what drink will be best for them, and it’s obvious that he finds the process to be very rewarding. His drink menu also includes a Cosmopolitan, but it’s made with Boardroom fresh cranberry vodka (rather than cranberry juice) and 3 seasonal cocktails: a sour, a margarita, and a rum punch. I chose a Sazerac as my final cocktail of the night because after Rudy explained how it was made, I simply couldn’t pass it up. The only ingredient that actually gets poured into the glass is the rye whiskey. The remaining components, which include Peychaud’s bitters, simple syrup, absinthe, and filtered water, are all frozen in an ice cube which melts as you sip the drink. The flavors unfold slowly, beginning with the rye and ending with the absinthe. It was truly innovative!
In addition to the classic cocktails, there is an interesting and comprehensive wine list that consists of roughly 25 wines from all over the world, many of which are available by the glass. There are also a number of locally brewed beers available, as well as house-made sodas. The food at Aldine is equally outstanding. The first time I was there, we were a party of 4 so that gave us the opportunity to try everything on the menu. There wasn’t a single dish that disappointed us. When I stopped back in to gather information for this barlogue, it happened to be Restaurant Week. I had dinner at the bar alone where I felt completely comfortable, and my 3-course meal was absolute perfection. I look forward to returning again very soon!