Springtime Cocktails at Backstreet Cafe
It’s been called spot-on, artisan, and the best in the city. Yes, the brunch is terrific and the back yard setting charms, but we’re referring to the well-tailored beverage program at Backstreet Café by award winning sommelier Sean Beck.
Thanks to Beck, Backstreet and sister restaurants Hugo’s and Prego, were already in the artisan cocktail game years before the cocktail craze hit. “A well developed cocktail program is now expected at restaurants, as opposed to several years ago when it was a pleasant surprise,” says Beck, who has been with the group for more than a decade. The sharp sommelier is equally passionate about wine, evidenced by the well-curated lists he’s created for Tracy Vaught and Hugo Ortega’s family of restaurants including the newest, Caracol.
We chatted with Beck about his cocktail program, utilizing local, and what sizzling cocktails to look for this spring and summer. Thirsty? Read on!
Q: Do you use local spirits or ingredients in your cocktails?
A: Yes. I've been a fan of the Rumble whiskey made by Balcones Distilling in Waco, Texas. It’s crafted from fermented Texas wildflower honey, mission figs and turbinado sugar; we use it in a few signature cocktails at both Backstreet and Caracol. Dripping Springs is our house vodka at all the restaurants--very clean in style, smooth and fully Texas made. We carry Yellow Rose, Railean Texas rum, Paula's and Garrison Brothers. In terms of local products, we feature several area beers and we try and source a lot of our cocktail ingredients from the area. We’re using jasmine we grow at Backstreet right now on the "Road to Waco" cocktail.
Q: What other patterns or trends are you seeing in Houston cocktail drinkers at Backstreet? Are all age groups into artisan cocktails now or just the young, trendy set?
A: We've always featured unique creations and seasonal libations, so the “age of the cocktail” hasn't been a dramatic change for us. That said, more guests are starting off with cocktails than in the past and I’m especially seeing a lot more brown spirits requested. Vodka isn't going away by any stretch, but people are more adventurous and knowledgeable when it comes to what is out there. This is especially true with the 25 to 35 year-old crowds.
Q: What are some popular specialty cocktails guests are drinking pre-dinner or with appetizers?
A: Depends on the season, but when I have bubbly drinks on the menu, those tend to be wildly popular as a pre-dinner libation. At the moment, our Blushing Texan is ordered frequently and we recommend it with our classic Duck Spring Rolls. The combination of subtle sweetness and fragrant spices in the cocktail, works beautifully with the salty, rich flavors of the duck.
Q: What's the most-ordered cocktail at Backstreet's famous brunch? Or is it all over the place?
A: It changes a lot depending on the weather. Generally, our sangrias win out. We have both a classic red wine version and a rose version that is made with St. Germaine and Old Tom Gin. Otherwise, it would be the Bloody Marys, Anjou Pear Mojitos, or our hangover remedy, Green Is Good.
Q: What are some refreshing cocktails at your restaurants that you recommend for spring and summer?
A: We are two weeks away from our next cocktail list, but here is what's coming that tends to really hit the spot in warmer weather:
Orange Marmalade Whiskey Sour: rye, lemon, Cointreau, orange marmalade
Road To Waco: Yellow Rose Texas Whiskey, Balcones Rumble, lemon, jasmine honey, egg white, Peychaud Bitters
Thorn of the Yellow Rose: Blanco Tequila, St. Germaine, passion fruit sorbet, lemon, jalapeno, sea salt rim
Garden To Glass (Sparkling Sangria): Pimm's, Hendrick's, Limpe, Ginger Beer, fresh mint, cucumber & watermelon puree, Lambrusco
DRINK UP NOW: Two cocktails to try this spring (pictured): Green Is Good, the hangover cure, and the Anjou Pear Mojito, when you’re just getting started!
Robin Barr Sussman
Edible Houston Contributor
(PHOTO CREDIT: Kenn Stearns)