What happens when the Niagara Region’s best chefs and mixologists are pitted against each other in a battle for cocktail supremacy? Nerves are shaken, emotions stirred, appetites whetted. And after the glasses are emptied, only one is left standing. The winner of the 2012 Flash & Panache — Icewine Cocktail Competition is Stone Road Grille’s Chef Ryan Crawford and owners Heidi and Perry Johnson, featuring the I-Swine-Tini.
Swine? Perry explains that it’s all Ryan’s doing. He and Sous-Chef Amanda Sentineal confess to a pork obsession, going as far as raising their own Berkshire hogs. From there, it’s a short walk into the history books. Bacon is marinated in Scotch whisky, which, in turn, infuses the liquid with its smoky goodness. Perry explains that it “tastes a lot like having bacon for breakfast [and] washing it down with a shot of Scotch.” He reassures me that there’s no mistaking the fact that one is consuming whisky. Still, that classic smoky bacon bouquet comes through on the palate in very subtle ways.
Pillitteri’s Gewürztraminer Icewine adds a hit of tropical fruit and citrus flavours, while a dash of cranberry juice “dries it off.” This very drinkable martini is a mouth-watering rich and elegant golden-brown colour. Perry and Ryan have hit upon a hip, bring-the-country-to-the-city kind of cocktail, perfect for any gathering.
The one feature that does raise a few eyebrows is the garnish: a rasher of fresh bacon skewered and served across the top of the glass. The first few people in line to try it at the competition the night of January 21st weren’t quite sure what to make of it. “In hindsight,” Perry admits, “I would have ensured the bacon garnish was warm and not nearly frozen.”
Want to try one for yourself? The team at Stone Road Grille plans to serve the I-Swine-Tini throughout the winter. However, Perry is considering making it the restaurant’s signature cocktail, in which case it will be available anytime. After all, the popularity of pork seems to be perpetually on the rise, and Ryan and Amanda seem determined to continue raising their own hogs. Talk about the perfect combination of food and drink!
But why stop there? Are any other creative pairings in the works? “I may have to draw the line on the Fresh Perch Daiquiri and the Kobe Beef Iced Tea,” Perry insists.
The Stone Road Grille, located in the Garrison Plaza in Niagara-on-the-Lake, is famous for being the place where locals dine. In fact, it was word-of-mouth that ultimately brought it to the attention of tourists and foodies alike from far and wide. Ryan, who has been the executive chef and sommelier at the restaurant since 2004, and owners Perry and Heidi are passionate about showcasing the best of Niagara. Eclectic dishes like Carrot and Ginger Risotto with Smoked Ham Hock Ragu are constructed around fresh and seasonal produce and locally produced artisan charcuterie, preserves and breads.
With that kind of hands-on attention to detail, we’re likely to see many more winning combinations in the future. Hog Wallbanger, anyone?