Which Vodka gets Chopped in a Bloody Mary Brunch Contest?

A brunch without a Bloody Mary is just a late breakfast.

And with a newfound love for all things made of tomatoes, courtesy of Nashville and Chicago, I profess that I have grown to love spending every Sunday with a distant cousin of tomato juice.

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Bloody Marys are an American brunch staple, and probably one of the reasons that as a child, I knew of tomato juice. As a successor to last year’s epic Statewide Bloody Mary Brunch, this one came with a lot of luggage. For last year, I interacted with many of the Food Network Chopped judges, hearing their favorite restaurants and food recommendations. So much so that it made for the highlight of the New York City Wine and Food Festival (NYCWFF).

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But as they say, a throwback is literally a throw back. Without the states and the sheer variety of infectiously smiling restaurants and snack vendors, this year paled in comparison, putting an emphasis on vodka types instead. SA pre-set menu made it less festive festival like, and with fewer Bloodies, less food and less interaction with the chefs, the event became more commercial for my tastes. Offset only slightly by the light and airy Chelsea Piers location.

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Back to judging the staple foods and beverages, the tastings were akin to a tour, dispersed with some curious winners in the culinary realm. Starting with a toast of the yogurt-like kefir with pomegranate arils and rosemary: almost like a luscious Greek yogurt equivalent, I could have devoured more pomegranates owing to an addictive obsession. The accompanying crumb cakes were divinity on a plate though, and I soaked them up with an appetite even spongier than their texture.

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My unanimous favorite with the judges was the Intensely Bloody Mary made with Death’s Door Vodka, Barrow’s Intense Ginger Liquer, lemon juice, tomato juice, with celery, olives, pickled ginger and black pepper. The undertone of ginger sweetness with the kick of pepper were a playground of sweet and tangy flavors that worked even when the vodka was replaced with gin!

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Absolut Vodka, signature sponsor of last year, offered two distinct variations: one with a whole horseradish garnish with a spicy rim, which was a tad too fluid for my soup sensitive taste buds. But their Mango Mary, reminding me of an Indian Guava Mary, was sumptuous – complete with tangy lemon notes and a wake-me-up fresh taste.

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Pinnacle Vodka‘s Sunday Funday Bloody Mary was topped with a dash of hot sauce in the tomato juice, with the a Horseradish and Worcestershire sauce and celery garnish. While plain to look at compared to other vegetable dumplings I had found in earlier renditions, it was a smooth, tasty and strong one, gulp-able like soup and relaxing like a cocktail.

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Effen Vodka of Holland relayed a cheeky name with A Bloody Effen Vodka Treat. Yet it was a similar staple with tomato juice stabbed with Tabasco, Worcestershire sauce, celery salt and peppercorn. The addition of basil gave this a Dutch-Italian identity complex, but it too was a satisfying, strong and thick drink that merited a repeat dosage.

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Twenty Grand Vodka amplified the spice quotient further with a Sichuan Ma La Mary. With the blend of peach vodka and cognac, tomato juice, cucumber juice, lemon juice, horseradish, Worcestershire sauce and celery salt and Sichuan pepper powder, the kick was the raw shichimi togarashi spice rim. While I didn’t get any soft cucumber notes, I was content with a fiery spice kick that took me to my Indian travel diaries.

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Menage a Trois Vodka offered two distinct Bloody Mary drinks: yellow and green, both by Cody Goldstein of Muddling Memories. Gotham’s Greatest had basil infused vodka with yellow heirloom tomato juice, horseradish, cayenne pepper, apple cider vinegar, olive oil, lemon, sea salt and black peppercorn. While a tad too many flavor components, the apple cider was the strongest of notes and one that I enjoyed the sweetness of. By contrast, the California’s Coolest had California green tomato juice with tomatillo, cilantro, serrnao pepper, white pepper and a touch of Sauvignon Blanc with avocado foam and chopped red tomatos! To think foam was still a trend, even in cocktails! The juxtaposition of spice and icy coolness was mind blowing. Relatively lower on booze, it was one that I could imagine with spicy Tex Mex food.

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Coming to food, a fan favorite was Melba’s Restaurant‘s inventive take on eggnog waffles. Having expressed my adoration for bite sized morsels, these were waffles on a stick growing in fake grass, reminiscent of Dominique Ansel’s wonderland theme. The best part was the gracious hosts pouring maple syrup live as I gobbled down way too many without the guilt of floral plucking!

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However my favorite bite came from Giorgio Pellegrini Media Group‘s bright green bite sized flavor bomb: pea pancakes with herbed yoghurt – and for those with the taste for it, candied bacon. With a recent discovery of flavorful peas in brunch dishes in San Francisco, the pancake rendition was one that I could have gobbled in waffle proportions, marrying perfectly with sour yogurt. Thank goodness for no saccharine sweet syrups!

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Roberta Pipito’s Homemade Delish consisted of a caramelized onion and goat cheese tart, a sweet and salty combination that I had devoured before in many forms. And as always, my favorite goats cheese did not disappoint.

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Jason Hicks of The Peacock NY had a twist on eggs which was an inviting inspiration for home kitchens. Smoked mackerels with egg, horseradish, pickled pear onion and dil made for another bite sized tasting which I observed only visually courtesy of the fish.

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And last, one of my favorite new bar families Kind Bars offered snack sized slivers with dollops of solid cheddar and firm mozzarella cheese cubes. It was a nutty and salty protein packed bite intended to lure people towards fitness and healthy eating. And in turn, gave some imitable ideas for cocktail parties and pre-dinner snacks.

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For coffee lovers, one of whom I was slowly becoming, Illy offered black coffee with white chocolate covered chocolate cake pops that looked discerningly familiar. Definitely a pick me up staple in the snooze-inducing, sunny afternoon.

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And thus ended a day of starry sightings, heirloom mouthfuls and peppery aftertastes. Filled with conversations of new restaurant openings, ghost peppers and my stylish Delhi vest.

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