Mojito Madness: Round One Recap and The Rest of the Story
Posted by cmh gourmand on October 18, 2010
Alternate Title: CMH Gourmand and the Seven Lady Drinkers
Sometimes I get a notion…….
Good mojitos have been few and far between in my life experience. I had three or four perfectly mixed and poured mojitos after I landed in Brisbane, Australia after 26 hours in transit. Casa Nueva in Athens has a good seasonally themed mojito cocktail. However, my local mojito encounters had been lacking and might be better described a “meh-jitos”.
What is a mojito? A highball, Cuban in origin, it should consist of: white rum, sugar cane juice, lime, sparkling water and mint leaves. This cocktail is all about the quality of the ingredients and taking the time to mix them.
Using the power of Twitter, I asked for suggestions on the best mojitos in the capital city. I received many responses. Then I decided that the quest would be best if done with a company of cocktail connoisseurs. I figured if the mojitos were bad at least the entertainment (and blog content creation) value would still be high. I sent out a call for volunteers for my cocktail caper that read as seen below (not quite the Shackleton expedition advertisement, but still equally uninspiring).
Hello Brave Volunteers,
While I agree that the best mojito would be in Cuba or made at home,
sometimes while out and about, you have to have one, especially in
this heat. Over the last year I have been overwhelmed by mojito
malaise – too many suboptimal mojitos to count.
I know we can find at least one good one in Columbus and I am on a
mojito mission. I need help rating and evaluating mojitos.
This offers no pay, probably hazardous working conditions, the
possibility of alcohol poisoning, the potential for drunk tweeting
(not by me) and you might end up in a photograph on CMH Gourmand.
Here is the route – two days – one easy….one hard.
In the end, these were my volunteers. Their names have been somewhat protected to protect their somewhat innocence.
For one segment, we were joined by AmandyAnderson
The adventures are mostly chronicled on Twitter under this hashtag – #MojitoMadness
We picked up a few additional test tasters along the way with our growing party acting as Johnny Alcoholseeds and Pied Pipers. Some of the restaurants were following our progress on Twitter as well, much as people on the Florida coast watch the Weather Channel for hurricane updates.
Now a long alcohol inspired evening (starting at 3 PM) with seven women would normally be something that I would dream about instead of write about or experience. Well, unless it is Australia or Canada, I had similar adventures there. Nevertheless, it happened. There is a saying: “Well behaved women rarely make history”. That is true. I think that Mojito Madness as the event was called was very historic.
The surprise guest was Monica Day from NBC4. I did not know she was coming. Honestly, my first thought was “great, some high maintenance fashion plate is on this excursion”. I was very quickly proven wrong. Since I did not have a TV for the majority of 2010 and don’t watch TV when I have it, I had no idea who Monica was or that she was also a former Miss Ohio. Score one for Team Mojito Madness. Monica was perfect for our experiment and it was great to drink in her company. She is classy, observant, funny and flexible. Ms. Day you can join us for any adventure at any time! She also completed her journal of the evening two months ahead of me. You can read Monica’s well-written documentary below.
I learned a lot during the field research for this project. Being the only male in a pack of seven strong-willed, mojito-fueled, bright, passionate, wonderful women on a rainy day with bars to hop and raindrops to dodge is no easy task. I was often lost in my own crowd. The game plan and approach were debated. I decided to just follow along for the ride instead of trying to steer the course of the ship. These are the places we visited or assaulted depending in ones point of view on day one.
These are my field notes:
First stop Barrio. Met the group, organized the itinerary, and explained cocktail evaluation process. Debated cocktail evaluation process. Backseat driving has begun. Remember to eat. Round One of Mojito Madness was designed as a High Street tour of cocktails with ambitions to sample eight to ten different mojitos.
As a group we discussed what makes a mojito good. There were many different opinions. There were many competing opinions. There were many contrasting opinions. We discussed rating sweetness, mintyness (sp?), ruminess (same), mojitoness and taste. At the end of much back on forth we (kind of) agreed to a 10-point scale with 5 points for taste and 5 points of mojitoness (which includes mint, sweetness, mojo, etc.). Barrio has a Pomegranate Mojito, which a few of us tried and was found to be respectable. Not sure of how our group dynamics would play out and also wanting to be a good host I decided I would order a pitcher of mojitos with a few appetizers to share and pick up the tab for our first order. I appreciated the bartender’s willingness to pursue this poor idea on my part. As it turns out the Barrio mojito scored from one to nine on our scale with the low scores coming from those getting a drink from the bottom of the pitcher. I noted that I should avoid the pitcher tactic for our other stops. We all agreed that the fries at Barrio are really damn good.
As we decided to head for our next destination Mother Nature decided it was time to unleash the rain. A lot of rain.
I arrived at Mojo Lounge soaking wet and could find no paper towels in the bathroom to dry off. I did however, discover a secret parking spot in Goodale Park so all was not lost. We took our team photos here and I apologize to Twixlen for cutting her out of my photo in error. We universally liked that the Mojo Lounge mojito had slices of lemon and lime – so score a presentation point there. Several of us also thought it had a lemon shake up (fair drink) quality to it. We believe the alcohol used here was Barcardi Limon. Our collective score here was seven. Not bad.
Our next stop was Knead (which is overdue for a report….coming soon). Since sobriety improves walkability, we were looking for ways to minimize mojito mayhem. Knead was happy to cater to our whim of wanting half pour mojitos for the sake of pace. I do not think the mojito was a standard cocktail on the menu (at least in August) but they made them anyhow. The consensus was that the mojito lacked mojitoness. Another comment was “tasted like my freshman year”. To elaborate on that comment more would take too long and feel too awkward so use your imagination. We did think the presentation of the food we ordered was good. A few said that while this version of the drink was not a good mojito, under a different name, they would rate it a good cocktail.
We headed next door to Deepwood. At this stage, the group was a bit boisterous to the point of my absolute mortification. I felt very bad for the couple across from us. Another member of our party noticed that her boyfriend’s grandparents were in the restaurant but it was too late for her to distance herself from us. Therefore, she sucked it up. We made requests for half pour mojitos here as well. The staff were happy (on the surface) to do so and adapted to our “boarding party” quite well with patience, decorum, and grace when taking multiple food orders from us.
(Aside: A few days later, I heard through the food enthusiast grapevine (we know everything) that our presence had been tracked on Twitter and that there was significant discussion and debate among the staff and owners about how to handle the half pour mojito situation. To everyone’s credit, we would not have guessed what was going on from our side of the table.)
We had some differing opinions on this mojito. We had two low scores and several 8′s and a 10. This turned out to be our (collective, not universal) favorite of the evening. Comments included: most minty, not too sweet and good ruminess (sp?). Many of us thought it was the best balanced of the mojitos we tried that evening. We all loved our food here. This was our main meal stop for the night although we continued with snacking to maintain our drinking sustainability.
Rested, fed, fueled and with the rain abated, we marched to Mouton. I must give Mouton great credit. They were aware of our intentions via Twitter and even though they did not carry all the ingredients to make a mojito (and did not have it on their standard drink menu), they sent someone out to get the missing components they lacked and invited us in with open arms.
Mouton led strong with most members of our merry mojito band commenting that this was the best presentation of the night. The mint looked and tasted minty. Even the ice (crushed) looked inviting. However, things when downhill from there. Field notes include these observations and opinions: “so limey I might die”, “tastes like sour mix”, “limijito?” and “tastes like my front yard”. Based on presentation and high spirits we had ordered a lot of mojitos when we arrived. Scores here varied from two to six. What we did universally enjoy was the food and other beverages and cocktails we tried.
The pouring and art of their cappuccino was wonderful (see the photo below).
We picked up some additional male members from the Twitterverse at this point and moseyed over to The Rossi to find it packed (not surprising for a Saturday night). We placed our party on a wait list then ran a gauntlet of interesting people watching fueled by the Gay Pride Festival on our way to Northstar Cafe.
Northstar failed the mojito test. Field notes here included: “not minty”, “not rummy” and “no mojitoness”. This did score high on the taste scale (four to five out of five from most of us) due to Northstar’s house made ginger ale. For me, I was happy because I had a peanut cookie to munch on which is a Northstar favorite of mine.
At 8:47 pm, we received the call that our table was ready….or almost ready so we rolled back to the Rossi. The hostess at the Rossi wins for service for the evening. She did the best she could under crowded and cramped conditions to squeeze our party into a space for sipping cocktails.
This was a stop I was looking forward to due to several positive endorsements from the public. I wanted the evening to finish strong. Opinions were contrasting here. Comments from my mojito mavens included: “I do not hate this mojito”, “Ewwww”, “goofy bitter flavor, cheap liquor?”, and “solid five”. There was one score of eight but the comments after could not be translated other than the phrase “hoo haa”. It was a busy night and several of us noted a grainy sugary taste to the drink so maybe the bar ran out of simple syrup and substituted another sugar product. At this point due to the crowd, time invested and such, we collectively called it a night. I left my notebook behind but it was secured and saved by a Hungry Woolf. I cabbed back to Clintonville and called it a day and a night.
The next day I headed to the hinterlands (to me), known to most of you as Easton to try out Smith & Wollensky. The original plan was to hit three places for part two of Mojito Madness but the day was not flowing well and my focus was flagging.
The bar enchanted me, enough that I could willingly be lured to Easton again. It may be the best place to drink on a Sunday afternoon. One half of bar area the opens to the patio. The bar top is copper-plated which creates an old bar feel. The bar service was good, classy and efficient. The presentation of the drinks was impressive. I watched the bartender prepare my multiple mojitos.
I tried the Dragonberry Mojito which is Barcardi rum infused with dragon fruit and strawberries and served with fresh mint and lime. I would give this an eight. Also on the menu was Miami’s Finest Mojito, made with Cruzan Citrus Rum, Monin Pure Cane Syrup, Sweet & Sour, lime, mint and soda.. I gave the Dragonberry an eight and the Miami an almost nine. I also swilled a very good Pomegranate Caipirinha made with Cabana Cachasca Rum, pomegranate, mint and lime. (Aside: Brazilan rum aka Cachasca, is distilled from cane sugar – not molasses like other rums. It is generally high proof and clear in a murky manner). At this point in time, I was feeling that the Smith and Wollensky mojito might be my winner or at least second place finisher.
The following weekend the destination was German Village to try out Lindey’s and Barcelona. Our research in the village was highly productive but hindered by some disorientation and some trauma (I was attacked by a branch). Ouch. Photos were suboptimal on this expedition due to low light. So, I am sorry that you not get the view these mojitos at their best.
We hit Barcelona on a busy, busy night but were able to secure two stools for the three of us. We were also able to secure four cocktails for round one of sampling. The Basil Mojito is a signature drink here and had received a strong endorsement from a few folks. This is Barcardi rum with lime, sugar, soda and basil leaves. We also ordered a Caipirinha (pitu cachaca, limes, sugar and soda). For the month of August, 10 Cane Rum was featured liquor so there were two more mojitos to try. One was made with 10 Cane Rum and the standard ingredients. The other was labeled the Millionaire Mojito, mixing 10 Cane Rum with Cava. All of the mojitos here were well made. The Barcelona bartender, in spite of being very busy, put great care into each mojito. All were well balanced with fine presentation. The mint itself was fresh and looked really good. Each cocktail was muddled and hand shaken with vigor. The basil mojito scored an 8.5. The 10 Cane mojitos scored 9.5. While the journey continues, this was the winner and at this point, my desire to continue looking was curbed. The Caipirinha was awesome resulting in more being ordered to ensure the first two were not flukes.
Our next destination was Lindey’s. A signature drink on their bar menu is the Cranberry Mojito. On a previous visit, I was told they were out of Cranberry (on a Friday night with a grocery store within walking distance….what?). This evening Lindey’s did have cranberries so we ordered their house version as well as a standard mojito. These were both good and worth ordering again. However, with the trauma of being attacked by a branch and the lingering recent memory of the Barcelona bar experience, it was hard to get excited about our drinks here. The food was amazing and was enjoyed in candlelight on one of my favorite patios in town.
In late September, I finally hit the last place on the original mojito hit list – The Press Grill. The Press is a favorite cheap eats hangout out of mine but I had never tried their mojito. I sampled this one solo. It was good but not great. I found it a bit too syrupy and gritty. In the range of all of the mojitos I tried for Mojito Madness, this would score in the lower end of the middle of the bell curve.
We missed a few places. M, the restaurant, called out to us via social media but we were not able to take them up on their offer to experience their mojito. Their bar staff have a good reputation in the cocktail community so it is a shame that logistics did not work out. I am sure there will be posted comments on other good mojito spots in Columbus. However, based on a good sample and plenty of sampling, I am comfortable stating that Barcelona has the best mojito in town. I will also state in retrospect, I prefer Caipirinhas over mojitos for my Latin flavored cocktailing.
There might be more #Madness sessions in 2011 –
Manhattans and Bloody Marys are on deck. The format will be one place and one type of cocktail per meet up until we run the list of best in show for that cocktail in Columbus. Watch @CMHGourmand on Twitter for those details and read the results here, hopefully in a timelier manner.