I have a long and sordid history with lemonade and vodka as a drinker. This classic combination has gotten me through countless college parties, New Year's Eves and other festive occasions. But I've been trying to drink better. I've stopped ordering vodka-cranberries at the bar, and I haven't had any kind of flavored martini in at least a year. Call it a crappy cocktail time-out, but drinking better cocktails isn't exactly much of a punishment.
I saw The Better Lemon on Mate Hartai's menu at Lower Greenville's Remedy on the first warm day after that last cold snap. My past drinking-proclivities made it absolutely impossible to pass up.
A mix of the bar's housemade Meyer lemon soda, Suze and sparkling wine, it was practically just a lemonade, the kind that a fancy lady like myself should be drinking on a big wraparound porch while wearing a hat. Much fancier than Crystal Light powder poured into shots of cheap vodka to make it more palatable.
Instead, I was sitting upstairs at Remedy, pretending I was in The Great Gatsby or something. When the server brought my cocktail, garnished simply with a slice of lemon, I was almost underwhelmed. Sure, a boozy lemonade is a straight-forward kind of drink, but when you're throwing obscure French liqueurs into the mix, I expect a little more fanfare. An edible flower or charred lemon peel -- something. After fishing the lemon wheel out of my drink (and its annoying seeds) and taking the first sip, though, I no longer gave a damn about such frivolous things as garnishes.
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Without the Suze, the aforementioned obscure French liqueur, this cocktail would pretty much just be a French 75 in a Collins glass. There's nothing wrong with that, but a dose of bitter is exactly what this drink needed. Suze is a relatively unknown spirit unless you've spent plenty of time behind the bar or traveling around France, but it is one that deserves a more prominent place in your drinking routine. Made from gentian, a plant with bright blue trumpet-shaped flowers, it is bitter, herbal and uniquely floral. If you're scared of Fernet-Branca and Campari, a dash of Suze is a great way to ease yourself into that world.
I didn't catch which brand of Champagne, if it even was Champagne, was used to fill my Collins glass to the top, but it was mildly flavored. Too many cocktails that rely on Champagne utilize cheap, sappy-sweet or overly acidic sparkling wine, even in fancy establishments. If the sparkling wine in a cocktail is inoffensive, it's considered a win. This sparkling whatever-it-was perfectly complemented the sweet-tart soda and floral gin botanicals.
And that soda. Long before opening, Remedy promised to bring "health by soda" to Dallas, and if this soda is healthy, sign me up for a week-long Remedy Meyer lemon soda cleanse. Instead of relying on simple syrup, there's a touch of sugar to complement the natural tangy sweetness of Meyer lemons. There are other seasonal housemade sodas on offer, in flavors like Texas grapefruit and pistachio pumpkin, but this one should stick around year-round. It's actually worth drinking sans booze, which is something that you really can't say for most other lemonades.
The Better Lemon also proves that the term "craft cocktail" doesn't have to mean "fussy, spirit-forward drink mixed by a know-it-all bartender." The term is overused, sure, but it just means that the mixologists behind the bar actually give a shit about the ingredients that they're mixing into your cocktail. Many people think that craft cocktails are pretentious and unapproachable, and mostly they're right. Except for when it comes to a drink like The Better Lemon.