by matthew stewart | July 10, 2013 | Food & Drink
Vodka drinks keep the beach bod intact.
The Let’s Misbehave, a low-cal vodka cocktail.
The Southampton Social Club.
With an increased interest in nutrition and calorie consciousness, bartenders are embracing the low-calorie, no-carb benefits of vodka mixed with the finest and freshest ingredients the Hamptons have to offer. Farmstands laden with the freshest fruits, vegetables, and herbs are a rite of passage on the East End and bring the best of the season into our kitchens. When it comes to dining and drinking, Hamptonites are demanding consumers in bars and restaurants, too. With their healthy and weight-conscious customers in mind, bartenders are answering the call for cocktails that celebrate great taste while promoting a healthy lifestyle, and vodka is the natural spirit to blend the two.
“Vodka is definitely the most popular liquor in this area, and I think the basis for that is just how much you can do with it,” says Amanda Striebel, assistant restaurant manager and assistant head bartender at Dockers Waterside Restaurant & Marina (94 Dune Road, East Quogue, 653-0633) in East Quogue. “It’s about the flavor profiles and using the lightness of vodka to complement fresh fruits and other ingredients. Our main focus with our drinks list is to bring seasonal ingredients in so that any calories our customers are absorbing are from [those] and not from the spirit or syrups and sugars.” A Dockers favorite is the Amanda 75, a blend of Belvedere vodka, fresh lemon juice, and Champagne. “It is served as a martini in a very simple style,” says Striebel of her namesake cocktail.
According to the USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, vodka contains only 64 calories per ounce and is totally free of carbohydrates. This is a real benefit to those who are mindful of their waistlines or experience gluten allergies. The other health benefit of vodka comes from stress reduction, which promotes general good health and weight loss. A study in the Journal of Psychopharmacology found that vodka reduces stress more effectively than the alcohol-equivalent of red wine.
Nick Finazzo of Montauk’s Clam and Chowder House (352 W. Lake Dr., Montauk, 668-6252) is also mixing up a vodka and Champagne cocktail that offers a delicious twist. “Smirnoff has a new brand called Smirnoff Sorbet Light that is reduced-calorie vodka that has full flavor,” reports the veteran bar manager. “I pair the Mango/Passion Fruit with Champagne and a little bit of pineapple juice to add a touch of color. We call it the Westlake Bellini, and it is our take on that classic cocktail.” Finazzo has seen a big change in dining and drinking habits during his time, as his clientele has become increasingly more discerning. “Over the last few years, our customers are more and more asking for drinks that are good for you, and there are a lot of things that I can do to make cocktails more health and calorie conscious,” says Finazzo, defending the use of a low-calorie base on which you can build any vodka cocktail. “The sorbets allow for many options, depending on what flavor you are looking for. I made the Westlake Bellini by accident and was very glad because as soon as I put it on the menu, it started to fly out the door.”
The health- and weight-conscious consumer has spiked an increase in vodka consumption nationally, making it the leading spirit category in 2012, with Smirnoff taking the top position with increased sales of 2.1 percent (equaling 9.8 million cases). With calorie-counting as a major reason for vodka’s popularity, the farm-to-table experience is another key component, influencing its increased consumption.
“I grow my own mint and have a large patch of it that is probably five or six years old,” shares Evan Finkelstein, who has designed a thoughtful cocktail program at Sienna Restaurant & Ultralounge (44 Three Mile Harbor Road, East Hampton, 604-6060) i n East Hampton. “ I bring three-to four-inch mint leaves into the bar every weekend.” Finkelstein is in tune with his clientele’s desire for the best local ingredients and has responded with new offerings this season, including a revamp of an old favorite. “I am doing a classic Moscow Mule, and I am making it with homemade ginger syrup and fresh lime juice to complement the authenticity of the cocktail, which is crafted using Russian Standard vodka,” he says. “My customers are demanding these classics with a personal twist and drinks that are made with the best elements possible. They are increasingly asking for ingredients that are traditionally found in a kitchen [in your home].”
Southampton Social Club (256 Elm St., Southampton, 287-1400) owner Ian Duke weighs in on the reasoning behind the current vodka craze. “We have a drink called Let’s Misbehave, which is less of a farm-to-table approach and more about people who are concerned about calories,” he says. “It’s a combination of pink lemonade, grapefruit, vodka, fresh lemon zest, and a splash of Sprite. It is very light and refreshing while having the right alcohol content.” Duke also advocates for using premium local ingredients at his bar. “Our clients shop at the local farmers’ markets and demand the freshest and best quality ingredients when cooking or dining out, so naturally they want the same when enjoying a drink or two.”
As the season moves into high gear, Hamptonites can expect their bartenders to be serving up vodka drinks that are both beneficial to the body and celebratory to the soul. “The primary focus,” adds Striebel, “is keeping things fresh, clean, and simple.”
photography by tobik; tom fitzgerald (southampton social club)