Many serious eaters know I'm not much of a drinker, so it shouldn't be much of a surprise that my top seven magnificent sips are of the non-alcoholic variety.
1. Polito Family Farms Grapefruit Juice at the Wednesday Santa Monica Farmer's Market; Santa Monica, CA: The Polito's grapefruit juice is so sweet that I could easily mistake it for orange juice in a blind taste test. The Politos, Mary and Bob, are the un-Harry and David's of the produce world. They've continued to grow truly amazing citrus fruit as a family enterprise.
2. Hot Chocolate at Hot Chocolate; Chicago, IL: I know, I know, pastry chef extraordinaire Mindy Segal named her restaurant Hot Chocolate, but that still didn't prepare me for just how insanely good all the different hot chocolates she serves there.
My favorites at the moment? The Black and Tan—one-third hot fudge and two-thirds medium hot chocolate (need I say more?). Or her chocolaty riff on the Italian classic affogato, which she makes with two-thirds medium, one-third dark hot chocolate instead of espresso, and a scoop of coffee cocoa nib ice cream for the coffee flavor hit.
All the desserts, even the ones that don't include hot chocolate, are stupendous here, and the savory food is pretty darn swell as well. The burger, for example, is seriously delicious.
3. Fresh Ice-Cold Coconut Milk and Pineapple Juice at El Palacio de Los Jugos; Miami, FL: At the El Palacios de Los Jugos, serious eaters and drinkers find themselves face to face with a machete-wielding man as they walk into this extraordinary open-air combo juice and pork bar (by the way, isn't that an unbeatable combination?). Don't be alarmed. He's just cracking open fresh chilled coconuts and putting a straw in them. It's the ultimate non-alcoholic aperitif for the chicharrones fest that should follow.
Wash the chicharrones down with an ice-cold fresh pineapple juice, which bears no resemblance to the thick, syrupy, pineapple juice most of us grew up drinking. It's sweet and tart and slightly acidic at the same time.
4. Frozen Cafe Au Lait at Morning Call; Metairie, LA: The serious eaters got up early for our day-long Grand Prix de po boy (our plane left at 6:50 a.m.), so when we landed our driver-guide-New Orleans food raconteur Pableaux Johnson immediately drove us to Morning Call for the ultimate sub-tropical climate pick-me-up: a frozen cafe au lait at Morning Call, which tastes like great melted coffee ice cream.
I don't know what's cooler, the frozen cafe au lait, Morning Call itself, or the amazing servers that lined up next to each other would represent a social history of New Orleans.
5. Long Neck Diet Barq's in New Orleans, LA: What made the 23 po-boys go down easy on our tour de po boys? The incomparably refreshing taste of Diet Barq's served in long neck bottles, which I have never been able to find in any other city.
Note to Coke Big Wigs (Coke owns Barq's): Have your bottlers sell long neck Diet Barq's all over the country. Serious eaters everywhere would be forever grateful.
6. Red Jacket Orchards's Strawberry Apple Juice from the Greenmarket; New York, NY: Imagine combining the freshest, sweetest strawberries imaginable with the crispy, clean taste of freshly squeezed apple juice, and you get an idea. I love Red Jacket's raspberry, which adds a little acidity, or better yet the rhubarb apple juice, which lends just the right tart touch.
7. Peach Lemonade from Scratch; Durham, NC. Phoebe Lawless is one of our finest pie bakers and pastry chefs, but we are talking drink here, so I feel compelled to rhapsodize about the glass of peach lemonade I had at her recently opened Scratch Bakery. It is a perfectly balanced accompaniment to any one of her seriously delicious sandwiches. Peaches and lemons, it's sweet and tart and acidic squared. Do leave room for a slice of her lemon chess pie.