Many an Annie Gunn’s diner is familiar with the restaurant’s lauded wine list. But next time you head to the Chesterfield eatery, be sure to arrive early and belly up to the bar for a drink or two from manager Mark Hinkle’s new cocktail program.
Hinkle, who joined the Annie Gunn’s team about a year ago after a stint as GM at McCormick & Schmick’s, has tweaked the bar offerings to better reflect chef Lou Rook III’s local and seasonal approach to the menu by adding more local brews and a rotating selection of 8 to 10 craft cocktails. “We had a good cocktail program to begin with, but I wanted it to be in line with what we do here,” Hinkle said. “We change it up regularly, and the drinks are simple, ingredient-focused, and fun.”
The current cocktail list features a couple classics such as a Pimm’s Cup and a Dark & Stormy and a few twists on familiar drinks, including the Basil-Grape Refresher, Hinkle’s take on a Pisco Sour that serves pisco over muddled basil and white grapes topped with a splash of ginger ale; and Chef Lou’s Irish Old Fashioned, which combines Irish whiskey infused with Bing cherries with orange bitters on a sugar cube. There’s even a nonalcoholic concoction made with sparkling lemonade and strawberry purée for drivers and teetotalers.
But the stars here are Hinkle’s creative originals, the most notable being What the Duck?, featuring foie gras-infused Maker’s Mark. Yep, you read that right. Maker’s Mark bourbon infused with foie gras. What the duck, indeed. The drink was inspired by a recent wine dinner at the restaurant, which included a foie gras dish. By the end of the night, the kitchen ended up with what Hinkle called “a bowl of liquid gold,” aka the reserved fat rendered from searing the foie gras. “So I asked Lou if I could use it,” Hinkle said.
The method is the same as when infusing a spirit with bacon. “You add the fat to the liquor, let sit for about six hours at room temperature – any longer and it would probably be really terrible. The fat separates, and you strain it. There’s no foie in the drink, just the flavor,” he explained. “The drink is kind of a take on the dish from the dinner, which included a blackberry purée, so we added that.” It’s finished with lemon juice and Peychaud’s bitters.
What the Duck has been a hit: “Surprisingly, it’s done better than I even thought it would,” Hinkle said.
Hinkle is currently experimenting with locally-distilled Spirits of St. Louis spirits and using local craft beers in cocktails, so watch for a new menu to appear in a month or so. Here’s hoping he can figure out how to get caviar in a glass.