Drink of the week:
A Cane Juice cocktail.
Where you can find it: La Madia.
The damage: $11.
Thousands of bars in Chicago, why this one? I realize what I'm about to say may be considered sacrilege to the kind of Chicagoans who squirm when they meet people who root for both the White Sox and the Cubs: I relish both deep-dish and thin-crust pizza. It's true. In fact, I would even say that if it came down to it, I'd take the crisp-as-cracker pies over the drippingly gooey pan variety. Accordingly, I've wasted no time in trying out the slew of recently opened joints slinging out these Neapolitan-style beauties, La Madia being one of the newest on the scene.
How it went down: You'd think a mixologist would have to log years of bartending to become a master at her craft, but at only 23, La Madia Beverage Manager Jennifer Contraveous has earned some telling accolades, including an Epicurean Award for Best Cocktail Program for her time at BOA Steak on the Strip in Vegas. Putting my buzz in the hands of someone with only two years of legal boozing under her belt didn't bother me, not when La Madia's drink menu included such inventive concoctions as the Crimson Crush, a mix of citrus vodka, pomegranate juice, lemon sour, muddled mint and rock candy syrup. But it was the Cane Juice that left me thinking about it weeks after I had first sipped its slightly sweet goodness.
Unless I'm lying on a beach somewhere, I'm generally not a huge fan of rum-based cocktails, as they tend to skew overly saccharine and fruity. But by coupling an ounce of 10 Cane Rum with equal parts Clear Creek Pear Brandy, a spirit made by crushing fresh Bartlett pears and fermenting the resulting pulp, the Cane Juice tastes full-bodied, tangy and just a tinge sugary. The liquors are shaken with Contraveous' ginger-lemon sour mix, capping off the cocktail with an earthy, tart flavor and an aftertaste that reminded me of crystallized ginger candies. Poured into a martini glass, the pale yellow libation comes rimmed with a dash of cinnamon sugar and an almost-certain addiction.
Would I want to become a regular? La Madia's atmosphere feels modern but welcoming enough for your whole family, should you not want to take Junior to Rock-n-Roll McD's across the street. A tall, see-through, temperature-controlled wine cellar beautifully displays its bottle selection; slim, tan leather chairs rest on top of blonde-wood floors; and accents, like a chandelier that looks like suspended glass Christmas ornaments and a bright grass-green hood on the wood-burning oven, add just the right amount of sleekness to the space. I'm not going to claim its blistered-bottom pizzas, with toppings as interesting as roasted grapes and white clams, are the best in town, but then again, I'm not one to take sides: After all, come baseball season, you'll find me sporting both Cubbie blue and Sox black.
Dana Kavan scours the city for drink deals so good you'll offer to buy a round and creative libations that outshine your average on-the-rocks concoctions. Want to give Dana tips on where to rack up a bar tab? Share your finds before her next night out.