Is it a bartender's duty to make sure drinks possess mass appeal? Guy Smith, bar manager of Philadelphia's High Street on Market, doesn't think so. Combining the juice of an already-divisive brassica with smoky-mouthed mezcal and dry seasonings more often found on ribs than in rocks glasses, he's created a vegetable-based cocktail so green it could double as a Kermit the Frog-inspired paint swatch.
"I wanted to make a cocktail that was edgy, to challenge peoples' palates," says Smith, whose taut cocktail list runs the gamut of accessibility—bottled martinis and Manhattans share menu space with a drink built around applejack left to soak with buttered bread. His Trip to the Chinese Doctor ($12), however, takes the gold in the Out There Olympics.
Its name inspired by High Street owner Ellen Yin's observation that the finished product tasted like the herbal remedies her mom used to concoct, the drink starts with an ounce each of El Jimador tequila and Las Joyas Mina Real Silver, the latter a balanced, subtly floral mezcal that steers away from the smoke-bomb nature of its counterparts. Smith adds in simple syrup infused with whole black peppercorns, juiced broccoli rabe, and a pinch of smoked sea salt to lock in the savory side, while lime juice and a bar spoon of Green Chartreuse take care of tang and sweetness.
"To me, everything in this cocktail is a play off mezcal itself—smoky, spicy, vegetal," says Smith, who finishes the shaken-and-strained rocks drink with a lime twist and cracked black pepper. Smith chose rabe, a green common in Italian cooking, for its unabashed funk and bitterness. The juice does well standing in for bottled bitters, but it's not a lip-curling drink—if anything, it's a tertiary flavor within each sip, with citrus and smoke leading the conversation.
That doesn't mean the Trip is an across-the-board hit. Smith says the curious diners there to check out chef Eli Kulp's progressive kitchen work appreciate risks on the drink list, but he's met a few who are turned off by it—including Philadelphia Inquirer food critic Craig LaBan, who recently observed that it could "grow chest hair on a kale martini."
Smith doesn't mind. "Let's be honest. Someone who drinks a Cosmopolitan is probably not going to like this," he says.