I love summer in Chicago. Admittedly, and not surprisingly, a large part of my affinity for Chicago’s summer has to do with food. I love the variety of food at street fests (Burger Fest is my long-standing favorite) and baseball games, the opportunity to grill, and the chance to enjoy picnics at movies in the park or at the beach. Truthfully though, I love summer in Chicago, because after a long, dreary winter, nothing tastes better than a Bloody Mary enjoyed on a rooftop, patio, deck, beach, or anywhere for that matter.
The Bloody Mary was first created in the early 1920s, though it’s argued who first made it and where. One thing that’s generally true about Bloody Marys is that they have two key ingredients: tomato juice and vodka (though tequila and bourbon are two popular variations). Other common ingredients include salt, pepper, clam juice, olive brine, Worcestershire, brown sugar, horseradish, citrus, hot sauce and bitters. The best part is that you can use as little or as much of whatever ingredients you like. Fun fact: Butch McGuire’s, a Chicago bar, credits itself with being the first to use the celery stick as a stirrer.
If you read about my quest to find hot sauce on my trip to the Southern Caribbean, it won’t surprise you that I’m also on a constant mission to find the best Bloody Mary out there, and that I always order them extra spicy. I find that what really makes each Bloody Mary stand out is the garnish. I’ve had the typical celery and lemon wedge, of course, but I’ve also found some really outrageous garnishes in my travels.
At Saints and Sinners in New Orleans, they garnish each bloody mary with a crawfish and pickled green beans. It doesn’t get much more Nawlins’ than that!
When it comes to “traditional” Bloody Marys, I have two standouts in Chicago: Riverview Tavern and Buck’s. At Riverview in Roscoe Village, the Bloody Mary is literally a meal in (or on) a glass. It comes with a slice of pizza, cheeseburger, salami, pepperoncini, olive, cheese and pickle. Don’t plan on being able to move for a few hours.
And just when I had thought that I’d never find a better one in Chicago, along came Buck’s in Wicker Park. Relatively new to the food scene, Buck’s joins a host of Chicago restaurants trying to perfect fried chicken. The good news is they definitely stand out as one of the best. Go for brunch – it’ll give you an excuse to have chicken, biscuits with apple butter, and a Bloody Mary, of course. On my recent visit, I opted for the “upgrade” and was presented with the Bloody Mary below. Fried chicken wing? Pickled cauliflower? Smoked meat? A deviled egg? Yes, please. It was every bit of amazing as it looks.
At Flo, in the Lakeview neighborhood of Chicago, they serve a Chile Verde Bloody Mary. The green chile and jalapeno lend to the non-traditional green color. It also has an almost creamy texture. Rather than a lemon, it’s garnished with a lime, and I’m a big fan of the pickled onion on top- the vibrant purple color really makes it stand out. If you’re looking to try something different, this is it!
While the aforementioned have been among my favorites, I guess it’s time to share the winner thus far in my quest. Find an excuse to head to Milwaukee and immediately head to Sobelman’s. Get The Beast and get ready… olive, onion, pickle, cheese, sausage, mushrooms, scallions, shrimp, tomato, celery, brussel sprouts, asparagus, lemon, sliders, bacon wrapped cheese curds (you ARE in Wisconsin), and a WHOLE fried chicken. It’s unbelieveable and incredible. Make sure you have a few thirsty (and hungry) friends with you when you conquer this one.
Now that I’ve got you craving a Bloody Mary or wanting to learn how to make one, check out The Chopping Block's Bloody Mary Brunch class on July 17 and August 6 at our Lincoln Square location. We also have some other great cocktail classes including our Summer Cocktails and Appetizers Class on July 5 and July 30 in Lincoln Square. And we've recently partnered with James Beard Award-winning cocktail bar, The Violet Hour for hands-on cocktail classes at our Merchandise Mart location. We have a few openings in tonight's class at 8pm if you are free. As for me, I’m looking forward to August when I can sit back on Sebec Lake in Maine, and enjoy my own homemade Bloody Mary on the dock. Cheers!