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"A lot of New York restaurants will have this amazing food list and an amazing drink list, but they just don't go together," laments Alex Mirkin, bar manager at Pok Pok Ny in Brooklyn. "Drinks and food can make each other tasteless. Our drinks are geared to work well with our food. If a drink works with the spiciest thing on the menu, then it works."
Pok Pok's food is mostly Thai (a few items, like Ike's Wings, are Vietnamese) and considerably spicy. The drinks are their own beasts: "Our drinks are a little bit sweeter, a little more citrus-forward, to play off that Thai chili spice," says Mirkin. "There isn't much of a cocktail scene in Thailand to draw from...but our cocktails are reminiscent of flavor profiles you would find in Southeast Asia."
When Mirkin is jonesing for something citrusy, he shakes up a Hunny. Though he likes to steer clear of references to the classics, once its vinegary froth settles, the Hunny's not a far cry from a margarita; a bittersweet margarita with a subtle X factor.
The X factor: Som honey vinegar. With the exception of the apple flavor, Pok Pok's line of vinegars are cane sugar vinegars, sweeter than you might expect. "The honey vinegar is more subdued than the others. It has almost a sherry quality...a mellow, sweet silkiness. You get the brightness of vinegar without that tannic level of lemon juice," Mirkin notes. "The citrusy honey plays really well off of fresh grapefruit and lime. It supplements rather than drowns out the spice factor. The grapefruit gives it this backend duskiness, and the tequila kind of grounds it."
In the Hunny, Mirkin uses affordable gold tequila, for what he calls its "fresh, citrus edge," but he's open to experimenting: "It could be fun to make it with a nice smoky mezcal, a Del Maguey."
Pok Pok runs a tight ship, with one tiny bar churning out drinks for the always-packed shack. "We're big on systems that make life easier," says Mirkin, pointing to the pumps they made for the vinegar (one pump equals half an ounce). In keeping with this, Pok Pok drinks are designed for quick and easy bartending, which means they're also easy to whip up at home. Just be sure to shake well (the vinegar needs it) and pair with something spicy if you want this sweetie of a cocktail to shine.