Osteria Langhe, the Piemontese restaurant in Logan Square where David McCabe tends bar, has been serving snails in pastry shells with beurre blanc since it opened in 2014. Until recently, though, McCabe had little to do with the gastropods, leaving them to the restaurant's chefs. But when Christopher Marty of Best Intentions challenged him to create a cocktail with escargot (or lumache, as they're called in Italian), McCabe had some planning to do.
"At first it seemed intimidating," he says. "I thought about some sort of martini, but that seems really too gross." Then he remembered that Clamato, or clam broth mixed with tomato juice, is a key element of Canada's national drink, the Bloody Caesar. "I thought, Perfect: land clam in my Bloody Mary mix." The mix, which McCabe makes in big batches for brunch at the restaurant, includes fresh-ground chile flakes, pink peppercorns, and black pepper, along with Dijon mustard, horseradish, Worcestershire sauce, Tabasco, lemon juice, and vinegar or pickling liquid. Instead of using celery salt, he juices celery to add a fresh flavor without too much salinity.
What the mix hasn't included in the past is snails, though they're popular enough as a dish that Osteria Langhe has a couple of ceramic snail mascots. "Sylvester Snaillone and Snail Earnhardt Jr. are here to root me on," McCabe said. He put about a dozen snails—ones that the restaurant's chefs had cooked sous vide with thyme, sage, butter, garlic, and olive oil—in a spice grinder and reduced them to a paste. After adding the paste to a cocktail shaker, along with an ounce and a half of Modest Vodka and the rest of his Bloody Mary ingredients, he shook everything with ice.
Garnishes included a snail-stuffed Castelvetrano olive, leek leaves, and basil (because the snails are fed only basil for the last few weeks of their lives). And for extra authenticity, McCabe mixed up a gel using xanthan gum that he trailed along the outside of the glass. The name of his creation? Snails of the Cocktail.
McCabe has challenged Jacob Huelster of Watershed to create a drink using Nutella.