For berry, berry excited Texans like myself, we know berry season is in full effect. Farms all over our great state are open for berry-picking as the season lasts through mid-summer. Right now, we're seeing more and more ripe berries used as garnishes, in fresh jams, decadent pastries, desserts and much more. With their natural sweetness and rich color, they are a refreshing addition to spring dishes—not to mention they provide that superfood component we all love so much. Thanks in part to having one of the highest levels of antioxidants among all other superfoods, the blueberry is this week's star ingredient of the season.
Star Ingredient of the Season: Blueberries
At one time, just over 100 years ago, blueberries were only found in the wild. The modern day blueberry is the product of the 20th century, with farmers having learned how to cultivate and grow them properly using the correct soil, planting techniques, etc. Growing for a short time in the spring months, blueberry bushes not only provide the plump, juicy fruit of the blueberries but create an attractive landscape to any farm or garden.
Like many fruits and vegetables, the blueberry offers the highest nutritional value when eaten raw. Lucky for us, blueberries taste fantastic as a snack on their own and make great toppers to cakes and desserts just the way they are. Blueberries, with their sweet flavor and tart juicy bite, compliment fluffy buttercream, gooey custards, and crumbly cakes better than even (dare I say...) chocolate! Ever the popular fruit in baked goods as well, I guarantee you will never catch me turning down a blueberry muffin, blueberry waffle, blueberry pie, or even blueberry pop-tart for that matter! I am blue without blueberries.
In a Starring Role at: Spare Key
2416 Brazos St., Ste. C, 2nd Floor
While I have had many fine experiences with the variety of blueberry desserts Houston has to offer (and there are a lot!), I was interested in finding a one-of-a-kind cocktail using fresh blueberries as a star ingredient. Not only did I find just such a cocktail, reflecting the flavors of the spring season, but the entire experience was so mysterious and discreet, I used a "spare key" to find it.
Foregoing the hoopla of a grand opening, Midtown's newest bar Spare Key opted for a quieter entrance, where patrons were invited to bring in a key to try out the trendy yet laid-back lounge. The bar has since opened to the public and has slowly been seeing its fair share of Midtown partygoers filtering in with curiosity. Located on the second floor above Cook & Collins on Brazos, Spare Key is the creation of Chris Frankel, who was among the original crew at Anvil Bar & Refuge. The featured menu includes a well-crafted Old-Fashioned and an option to "Ask the Bartender"—a scenario in which Frankel skillfully creates a cocktail of his choice based on what the customer likes or dislikes.
Sensing my love for blueberries, Chris Frankel concocted for me a most decadent blueberry cocktail, made with bourbon, fresh muddled blueberries, fresh lemon, honey and Byrrh Grand Quinquina, which is an aperitif made of red wine. Layered with flavor and rich in color, this cocktail was like any other I have tasted. When muddled, the juices of the raw blueberries provided a rich, sweet taste which was only complimented by the flavors of the lemon and honey. This cocktail was meant to be sipped and savored, a perfect spring cocktail to enjoy on the second floor patio. I knew then I'd be ordering the "Ask the Bartender" on every subsequent visit to Spare Key. Few people have the talent to come up with new and exciting drink combinations, especially using fresh, seasonal ingredients, but Frankel is truly a master at his craft.
Though I have always been one to experiment with blueberries during berry season—adding them to juices, smoothies, even mojitos, it is the perfect blend of unique ingredients which makes a craft cocktail stand out. Berry season will be over before we know it, and as Houston gets hotter, there is no better time to enjoy fruity cocktails on a midtown patio. Stay tuned to hear more about what is in season and where to enjoy the bounty of the season.