Before those ponies reach the Kentucky Derby starting gate, make sure you've got a mint julep in your hand. The only question is: inventive or traditional?
Following Soho Kitchen and Bar's Southern cooking with a twist vibe, chef and owner Nolan Konkoski serves a few julep varieties, including the harvest-ready strawberry rhubarb iteration ($8.50). Five muddled mint leaves line a silver plastic cup, and 2 1/2 ounces of Bulleit bourbon, 1 ounce each of house-made rhubarb liqueur and strawberry puree are added with ice. The result is a Triple Crown winner best enjoyed at Soho's May 2 Derby Day party. "We go through four or five cases of bourbon in one afternoon," Konkoski says. "People just pound those juleps."
1889 W. 25th St., Cleveland, 216-298-9090, sohocleveland.com
Leave it to Society Lounge to perfect a classic mint julep ($10). Beverage director Joseph Fredrickson says early versions used rye whiskey or rum. Society follows Kentucky rules: bourbon. The bottom of a stainless steel metal cup is coated with turbinado simple syrup, and three mint leaves are dropped in. Fredrickson lightly presses the leaves with a wooden spoon, adds crushed ice and 2 ounces of Buffalo Trace bourbon. A few sprigs of mint finish the drink. "We slap the leaves to release the aroma," he says. "It's refreshing with just enough sweetness to take the bite off the bourbon."
2063 E. Fourth St., Cleveland, 216-781-9050, societycleveland.com