Who’s got the best Bloody Mary in the ‘burbs? Of 10 local bars that competed in Sunday afternoon’s inaugural event at the Purple Place Bar & Grill, Poor Red’s took the top prize and bragging rights.
The bars that entered the Best Bloody in the ‘Burbs contest included Poor Red’s, The Purple Place, El Dorado Saloon, Folsom Tap House, Sauced, Powerhouse Pub, 36 Handles, Aji Japanese Bistro, Scarlet’s and Relish Burger Bar.
“There are so many cool places in the foothills that aren’t getting the exposure that bars in midtown get,” Purple Place General Manager Lauren Churchill told Village Life. The contest was her brainstorm and the first of its kind ever held at the El Dorado Hills mainstay.
“I’m hoping it grows each year and becomes an annual event,” she added.
One bartender representing each establishment attended and had the chance to share why they think their Bloody Mary is the best. Booths lined the stage area, where patrons who paid $10 for a wristband could try a sample of each.
Each bartender brought 2 gallons of homemade mix to the event and the same amount of sponsor Tito’s Handmade Vodka was poured into each one.
The five official judges were Josh Verroza of “dudeoir” photo shoot fame, Jaimie Bailey and Jon Barham from liquor distributor Young’s Market, Kris Adams from Fifth Generation Inc. (the maker of Tito’s Handmade Vodka) and El Dorado Hills Community Services District Director Billy Vandegrift.
Judges sampled the 10 entries in a blind taste test and all said they were looking for taste and presentation. In the first heat five were tasted and judged from one to five points; the next five were tasted in the second heat. The third and final round was the top three point-earners overall.
The grand prize was a two-night stay in San Francisco at the Clift Hotel and two Giants tickets. The second place winner won a Tito’s bartender kit. The third place winner received a $20 gift card from each participating establishment.
Poor Red’s came out on top, as strong in presentation as it is in taste. Bartender Stacy Calhoun wowed judges with her pork belly bacon coated in candied pecans garnish.
“There was so much detail from the bottom to the top. Stacy had thinly sliced jalapeño pickles swirled in,” Churchill said after the event. “She deserved to win. Since we’re sister bars, (Poor Red’s is co-owned by Mike and Denise Hountalas, who own The Purple Place) we were talking afterward that we’re going to have to step it up next year … Stacy did amazing.”
Folsom Tap House came in second. Bartender Ryan Lombardi touted his bacon-celery salt rim and described his mix as “very spicy with a little bit of citrus,” saying that the unique flavor comes from the restaurant’s signature dragon sauce, adding, “Everything is house made, even the juice.”
Unofficial judges definitely had their favorites, too.
Laura Miller of Folsom said she liked Relish Burger Bar’s best. “It’s yummy; it’s spicy. There’s a lot of stuff in it, like a salad,” she said.
John Carrell of El Dorado Hills agreed. “Relish has the right amount of spice in theirs,” he said. “I like that it’s not chunky; I’m not eating it.”
With just the right amount of heat and a smoky bacon aftertaste, Relish bartender Austin Payne said his “secret mix” is like “a barbecue picnic in your backyard.” Others agreed. Relish came in third place.
Self-proclaimed Bloody Mary expert Cleveland Wallace of Sacramento said Aji’s impressed him most. “I think with the wasabi, Aji’s is definitely the most unique. I’ve never tried anything like it,” he said. “My second favorite is the (El Dorado) Saloon’s because it’s the most traditional.”
Sauced had a salmon infusion in their Bloody Mary, originality that got people talking.
Purple Place bartender Rodrigo Serrano’s creation got the chance to shine in the contest, instead of the recipe that owner Mike Hountalas concocted 10 years ago, which he described as “complex, deep red ruby, layers of flavors.” Denise Hountalas said they felt the staff “should do their own thing” for the occasion this time.
Serrano’s presentation included Wisconsin sausage and cheese, “a little bit of where I’m from,” he said. “Lots of veggies too …There’s a cucumber for halfway through to eat for freshness and then you always end with shrimp.”