Find boozy respite with some of Austin’s best brunch cocktails

12:00 a.m. Thursday, May 25, 2017 Austin360 Eats
El Alma, one of the El Chile Group restaurants, makes a michelada with tomato water so that the drink is lighter and more refreshing than a typical michelada but still has a strong tomato flavor. Arianna Auber / American-Statesman

Austinites are serious about weekend brunch: that blissful late morning/early afternoon ritual in indulgence during which we can recharge from the long week we might want to forget and the Friday night we might not remember.

Hair of the dog — whether it’s a spicy, wake-up-your-palate bloody mary or a disarmingly light and bubbly mimosa — is an essential accompaniment. But these days, many brunch cocktail menus go beyond those two classics to deliver the kind of free-wheeling approach that restaurants often apply to their brunch cuisine as well.

Here’s a look at just some of Austin’s most delicious brunch cocktails — a mix of original creations and riffs on the standards, like champagne-topped mimosas, that remain popular because they’re so suited for the carb-heavy cure-all of brunch.

Common flavors you’ll find among this bunch? Breakfast foods like cereal, fresh fruit, even bacon — and all manner of tomatoes, of course.

Cantaloupe Margarita

My first experiences with Austin brunch were early Saturday afternoons spent sitting on the covered patio at El Chile Cafe y Cantina, down the street from the house I used to share straight out of college with three roommates, lazily lounging over a heaping plate of chilaquiles verdes and a Brazos Bloody Mary with the weekend stretching ahead like the slow-flowing ribbon of the San Marcos River.

I now live south of Lady Bird Lake, but any brunch at El Chile Restaurant Group’s four sit-down spots takes me back and reminds me to slow down and take it in. That’s partly because all El Chile restaurants — El Alma, El Sapo and Alcomar in addition to the Manor Road flagship — still use the same signature chili salt to rim the glass of many of their drinks.

It’s present on El Chile’s sweet Cantaloupe Margarita, providing welcomed spice while you slurp down the frosty mixture of tequila, triple sec, lime juice, agave simple syrup and fresh cantaloupe purée — either frozen or on the rocks. It also delicately adorns a glass of El Alma’s version of a michelada, made with tomato water, bar manager Dimas Diaz says, to make it a “lighter, more refreshing drink, but you still get all the robust tomato flavor.”

Each El Chile restaurant has some kind of twist on the mimosa, the bloody mary and the michelada. They also each have a brunch margarita, which marketing director Bryan Gonzales says are, perhaps not surprisingly, ordered quite a bit.

“You wouldn’t normally associate margaritas with brunch, but they’re popular in Austin,” he says.

Turmeric Mimosa

Vinaigrette, the salad-loving New Mexican import off South Congress Avenue, introduced me to turmeric, a brightly colored root with health benefits and an earthy, almost medicinal flavor that can take some getting used to.

The eatery’s beverage manager, Heather Pedler, says there are about nine oranges and only a pinch of turmeric in the mixture the bar staff makes for the champagne-topped Turmeric Mimosa. But that’s all you need to give the classic drink a little more character. Combined with the root, the bright citrus of orange juice now has a slightly bitter edge.

Vinaigrette also has a twist on the bloody mary called the Kale Mary — vegetables have never tasted so good.

Hot Sauce in My Bag

New American restaurant Vox Table offers $1 mimosas, an irresistible deal for many. But beverage director Madelyn Kay says people also turn to the small menu of brunch cocktails, which includes refreshing options like the new Spritz, Please… with Aperol, soda water and Shacksbury Cider Spritz, a canned session cider with Vermont apples.

“Some things just feel made for day drinking,” Kay says. “Like the Spritz, you just want to sit on the patio and drink it all day. For me, (our brunch cocktails) are what you want to drink out in the sunshine with a big group of friends.”

For those who like the spiciness of a bloody mary, go with the Hot Sauce in My Bag, a sunrise orange potion with reposado tequila, serrano-grenadine syrup, lemon juice and Cholula. Yes, Cholula, a pequín-laced hot sauce that many of us Texans love on our eggs and just about everything else. In the Hot Sauce in My Bag — just one of Vox Table’s creatively named cocktails — the Cholula adds a tangy bite to the seesaw of sweet and spicy notes.

“I like to use weird stuff in my cocktails,” Kay says. “I like to cook a lot, so I get a lot of my flavor combinations from that.”

Good Morning

Oasthouse Kitchen + Bar, a gastropub far outside of town on RM 620, knows how beloved the bloody mary is and offers a “bloody mary bar with four house-infused vodka selections and a wide variety of mixes, hot sauces and rotating house pickled specialties,” says Jeff Cox, the restaurant’s managing partner.

Not in the mood for the savory punch of a bloody mary? Have a Good Morning instead. The sweet, slightly nutty drink comes served in a snifter with Buffalo Trace Bourbon, orgeat and almond milk with a side of Cinnamon Toast Crunch. Don’t be afraid to dip that cereal, OK?

Bacon and Eggs

It’s not just one of the food items you can order at the two Austin locations of Snooze, an A.M. Eatery. Bacon and Eggs is the name of a whiskey cocktail on the breakfast spot’s extensive drinks list, which is divided into “Bubbles,” “Bloodys,” “Booze” and “Brews.” Like others on the menu, it is a brunch twist on a classic cocktail — in this case, a whiskey sour.

The Mmm Mmm Mimosa and the Strawberry Mint Margarita are the most popular drinks at Snooze, which is open until 2:30 p.m. each afternoon and specializes in serving up breakfast and the alcoholic beverages you’d want with it. But more off-the-wall options like the Bacon and Eggs, with bacon-infused 9 Banded Whiskey, house sour mix, egg white, bitters and a bacon garnish, deserve a chance, too. The cocktail’s frothy, milkshake-like consistency (a result of the egg white) is a surprising complement to the meaty backbone of bacon, an expressive but not overwhelming savory addition.

Bloody Bartolo

An Italian restaurant isn’t the place I’d expect to find my favorite bloody mary in the city, but L’Oca d’Oro, in the burgeoning Mueller development, has proven to be exceptional at nearly everything it does. That’s true with the Bloody Bartolo, a roasted riff on the bloody mary.

The Bartolo is made with Banner Organic Vodka, roasted tomato juice, fermented chili, celery juice and celery bitters. It doesn’t have any particularly outlandish ingredient that would make it so memorable, like the kale of Vinaigrette’s green-hued Kale Mary. Rather, the drink takes big flavor from what’s been done with the ingredients: roasting the tomato, for instance, which adds nuance and rounds out the heat of the pepper.

The Dude

Jacoby’s Restaurant & Mercantile’s beverage director Mike Paulus knows how to sell you on brunch.

“There’s no better way to enjoy a summer’s day than cocktails followed by brunch on our bluff overlooking the Colorado River,” he says. “With light and uplifting flavors, Jacoby’s drinks have been designed to emulate our sunny atmosphere.”

He’s referring to brunch cocktails like the elegant Robin’s Egg with pisco, creme de violette, lavender simple syrup, lemon and egg whites. But then there’s the Dude, a collaborative concoction created by Jacoby’s staff members who love “The Big Lebowski” and the main character in it who constantly drank White Russians. The Dude is a brunch-friendly version with an Austin twist — a small amount of (512) Pecan Porter.

It starts as a reduction of Kahlua, Pecan Porter, vanilla and cane sugar before being added to a shaker tin with vodka and a dash of cream. Following “a good shake, it’s poured over a Stumptown Cold Brew ice cube, with a splash of Pecan Porter stirred in to make the drink lighter on the palate,” Paulus says. “What you get is a delicious, light, milkshake-esque beverage that will surely start your day off right.”

This story has been corrected to reflect that Vox Table’s cocktail is called Hot Sauce in My Bag.

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