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Crafting the Perfect Bloody Mary: Do-It-Yourself Bars and Proprietary Mixes Put the Fun Back into Guesswork

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Few would argue that a mimosa adds elegance to a cheese omelet. But when it comes to robust breakfast fare—sausage, gravy and biscuits; peppery hash browns; and steak-and-eggs—you need a libation with a flavor-forward profile. Enter the Bloody Mary, the iconic hair-of-the-dog cocktail that’s a little spicy, a little tangy and a whole lot of fun.

The classic version generally includes vodka, tomato juice, lemon juice, Worcestershire sauce, horseradish, celery salt, black pepper and a celery stick garnish. At Harry’s Savoy Grill in Brandywine Hundred and Harry’s Seafood Grill on the Wilmington Riverfront, bartenders also crack open Clamato.

“It cuts the tomato juice and adds spices and a touch of clam broth taste,” says Kelly O’Hanlon, general manager of Harry’s Hospitality Group.
Clamato or no Clamato, places like Dogfish Head Brewings & Eats in Rehoboth Beach are proud of their made-from-scratch blends. “It’s not like that mix on supermarket shelves,” says assistant manager Matt Patton. As for the spices, Patton will only reveal that it’s a proprietary blend.

Bartender Mark Harrison at Nage in Rehoboth Beach is more forthcoming. The restaurant includes dill weed, Old Bay, ground mustard, onion powder, garlic powder and white pepper in its version.

Nage uses sriracha for those who like a sinus blast with breakfast. Piccolina Toscana in Trolley Square relies on traditional Tabasco. The Bloody at the Stone Balloon Winehouse in Newark gets its heat from sambal, an Asian chili sauce, and house-made smoked horseradish.

Hot pepper sauce isn’t the only way to spice things up. Pepperoncini and jalapeno-infused pickles are popular at the Washington Street Ale House’s Bloody Mary bar in downtown Wilmington.

A little brine balances the spice. Olive juice appears in Nage’s recipe. The Bloody Mary bar at Deerfield in Newark has “pickle juice” ice cubes. At Henlopen City Oyster House in Rehoboth Beach, where Bloodies complement icy oysters on the half shell, pickles are made with cucumbers, carrots, jalapenos—even fennel—and floated atop the drink. “We save the jalapenos for people who ask for them,” confides co-owner Joe Baker.

Dogfish Head’s Bloodies are made with the company’s Blue Hen Vodka, which is infused by Brooklyn Brine pickles—which were already infused with Dogfish Head’s 60 Minute IPA. That’s a heady pack of pickles.

Flavored vodkas make things interesting. Henlopen City Oyster House infuses vodka with cucumber for a bright finish. Deerfield features bacon-infused vodka.

Admittedly, people can get fussy about the recipe, which is why so many restaurants feature a Bloody Mary bar. At The Deer Park Tavern in Newark, the selection includes crab, shrimp, scallops, pickles, pickled sweet peppers, banana peppers, cumin, hot sauces and the expected celery, Old Bay and horseradish.

“We give them a glass with ice and vodka, and they doctor it up however they like,” says Jeremy Hughes, director of operations for Ashby Management, which owns The Deer Park and four other restaurants. It’s so popular that Ashby Management has installed the Bloody Mary bar in all its restaurants on Sundays, even though its three McGlynns Pub & Restaurant locations don’t do brunch.

No Bloody is complete without the garnish. Forget celery sticks. At Piccolina Toscana, bartender Kendal Colvard skewers pickled tomatoes. The Stone Balloon Winehouse crowns the drink with a “flower,” bacon that’s artfully twined around a blue cheese center.

“You have to taste it,” says executive bartender Joseph Polecaro, “to believe it.”

Bloody Mary fans will happily oblige.

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