Southern accents

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February 19th, 2010 Original Article

We’ve been trying to write a Barcode about Hungry Mother for almost a year now, but every time we try, it’s been nearly impossible to get a spot at the bar. There are two reasons for that. One, it’s a small space, with only seven seats at the bar, plus a compact dining room. Two, Hungry Mother has also gotten such good reviews for its high-end, Southern-style comfort food and top-notch bar that the ranks of eager customers swelled.

It adds up to a spectacularly frustrating experience in the front room, where impatient couples jockey for seats at the bar, crammed between the host stand and the front door. Everyone is anxious. On a couple of visits we’ve encountered a generally surly, territorial crowd, and it’s an attitude that’s occasionally reflected in the service behind the bar. In a way you can’t blame them. When the guests are uncomfortable, so are the servers.

The good news is that if you can find a spot to relax, Hungry Mother boasts some exceptional cocktails to choose from, made with fresh ingredients that hint at their Southern roots. We’re thinking primarily of No. 2 (Maker’s Mark, sorghum syrup, Luxardo Amaretto, boiled peanut, $9; below right).

“Barry [Maiden], my business partner – the chef – is from Virginia. He introduced me to both sorghum and boiled peanuts,’’ says co-owner Alon Munzer. Sorghum, a crop grown primarily in the South, has a unique malty flavor. It can be very sweet, so they’ve cut it with water to lessen its power here. Boiled peanuts are another Southern staple, and they make for a unique garnish, even if the meaty consistency at the bottom of a cocktail isn’t something you’d expect.

The No. 43 surprises as well (Old Overholt rye, 10-year Ferreira tawny port, maple syrup, bitters, $9.50) with its Manhattan variation. It’s naturally sweet tasting with chocolate and orange from the port and bitters. “The port in this drink acts as sweet vermouth to a Manhattan, but is less herbal and a bit nuttier,’’ says Munzer.

Beer numbers among his mixing ingredients as well, which is yet another interesting change of pace. No. 57 (Don Julio Tequila, Becherovka, lemon, Mayflower Golden Ale, $9.50, below left) is all cinnamon, honey, and citrus undergirded by a malted, hoppy ale. Other intriguing options include No. 59 (Greylock gin, honey syrup, muddled cardamom and orange, $10), floral and herbaceous from the gin with spicy cardamom off the top and a soft, rounded orange finish. Like some of the others it’s served with a large, solid sphere of ice. “Almost every cold mixed drink has water in it, usually in the form of ice. This size ice allows us to limit the amount of water in a specific drink to its desired amount.’’

See what we mean? All pretty engaging, thoughtful stuff done the right way. We just wish it weren’t such a hassle to get a drink here more often.

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