It is a rare and beautiful thing when the kitchen and the bar work in such symbiosis as they do here at The Essex in Essex, Connecticut. It is certainly more ecological, but it also creates an opportunity for food to compliment drink, and vice versa. Cook-turned-bartender Michela Zurstadt lights up when she talks about it.
“Colt, the chef and owner, is the best mentor and owner I’ve ever worked for,” she tells us, from behind her stone-topped bar. Playful, nautical touches adorn the space around her, a nod to the seafood-focused menu. “I can go to him any time and say, I have this drink idea, can you come up with a dish to go with it? And he’ll do the same thing for me. I’m really lucky.”
It is this back and forth relationship that allows for Michela to uphold—and master—a front-of-house job when much of her background is in the kitchen. When she realized that bartending was a perfect marriage of creativity and people-pleasing, it all clicked.
“I learned I could do everything I loved to do with food, with booze!” she says, eagerly.
This symbiosis becomes even clearer when she begins to build her Brockmans cocktail, The Queen Bee’s Knees. It’s a clear play on the Prohibition-era classic, the Bee’s Knees, but with a real nerdy twist. The drink itself has the classic specs—honey, lemon, gin—but she rims the glass with lemon peel powder, a garnish that takes about two days to make.
First, she makes lemon oleo saccharin—essentially, the product of using sugar to extract lemon oil from lemon peels. Once the lemon oil has been extracted, she strains out the lemon peels, dehydrates them, and grinds them into a fine powder (don’t worry, the lemon oleo itself is used for another drink—nothing wasted here!). The result is a delicate rim on the glass that adds a beautiful, bittersweet lemon oil dimension to the cocktail.
And just when candied lemon peel powder has impressed us enough, Michela has another trick up her sleeve. The final garnish for the Queen Bee’s Knees is crème de violette pearls, or bubbles, that float in the glass and burst at the touch. She makes these by adding calcium to the liqueur, then dropping it into a sodium alginate bath, which solidifies the drops into little delicate bubbles. We can’t wrap our minds around how this works but we decide not to care. These little violet bursts are magical.
The Queen Bee’s Knees
by Michela Zurstadt
- 2 oz/60 ml Brockmans Gin
- .75 oz/22 ml lemon juice
- .75 oz/22 ml 1:1 honey syrup
- Creme de violette pearls
- Candied lemon peel powder
- Add first three ingredients to tin.
- Shake vigourously.
- Slide a lemon wedge around the rim of a chilled coupe. Dip coupe in candied lemon peel powder.
- Double strain drink into chilled, rimmed coupe.
- Garnish with 5 creme de violette pearls.
Finding your dehydrator is broken and you’ve just run out of your sodium alginate bath? Never fear, it happens. Go visit Michela at The Essex and she’ll be more than happy to make her drink for you.