The Old Fourth Ward is one of my favorite neighborhoods for cocktails and great food. Between Sauced, Sound Table, 4th & Swift, Krog Bar, Rathbun’s and P’cheen (just to name a few) it is a pocket of Atlanta packed with explosive flavors and unique offerings.
Our latest outing to the Fourth Ward district was to check out Café Circa with Maura Carey Neill (365Atlanta.com) and Ben Neill. Located at the intersection of Edgewood and Boulevard, Café Circa is housed in part of the old Danneman’s Grocery building. The atmosphere is classy, yet relaxed. The room is upscale and inviting, and jazz is predominant. We were fortunate to be there on a night when local legend Francine Reed was performing.
Executive Chef Hopeton Hibbert and Mixologist Ava Kopieczek take an innovative approach to “fresh,” especially in the cocktail offerings. While all of the cocktails use fresh ingredients, many are cloudy with muddled fruits, veggies, and herbs. And we should know – we went through 10 of the cocktails during out two-hour visit. Our gracious server Dwayne took special care to make sure we stayed on task and carefully guided us through the drink and dinner menus. He also reminded us of one of the house rules at Café Circa: “Try something new. You won’t be disappointed.”
The first round started with some kick-butt salsa in a martini glass – “The Boulevard Belle.” This unique drink blends Bacardi rum, jalapeño syrup, lime juice, red bell pepper, cilantro, and pineapple juice, and looks like a colorful fiesta. The first impression is aroma of the red bell pepper, followed by the flavor of the cilantro against the sweetness of the pineapple juice. It finishes with a nice jalapeño burn in the back of your mouth and throat. Truly one of the most unique drinks I’ve had. While it was well executed, it would not be a drink I would choose to sit and sip. However, I would be interested in trying it with some food pairings. Maybe a chicken mole dish?
“Thyme for Change” was a bit of a surprise. My go-to summer drink is Hendricks with cucumber, so the list of ingredients – Hendricks gin, thyme, cucumber, raspberries, St. Germaine, and lime juice – seemed familiar. The muddled raspberries with the cucumber not only gave it a beautiful red color, but a nice new flavor. The raspberries did not overwhelm but paired up with the cucumber nicely. The drink did wind up sweeter toward the end as you got to the bottom of the drink and the muddled raspberries became more prominent.
Another suggestion for round one was “The Brazillian Sunset,” a delightful mix of Cachaca, Plymouth sloe gin, lemon juice, Campari, egg white, and grapefruit bitters. Very unassuming in appearance, this pisco sour-esque cocktail had layers of flavor with a nice edge of grapefruit bitters on the back end.
Looking for a classic or two to sample, we enjoyed the Café Circa version of an “Old Fashion.” I wish we had asked which rye was used as this was probably one of the smoothest Old Fashions I’ve experienced. The freshness of the ingredients came through in the muddling of the fresh orange juice, cherries, and orange bitters with sugar. The other classic cocktail choice was “The Negroni.” Café Circa serves their version on the rocks. Plymouth gin, Campari, Carpano Antica Formula sweet vermouth, orange peel. Very bitter and herbal, and one of my favorite classics.
Heading back to the specialty menu, the next choice was “The Winter’s Embrace,” another recipe featuring the use of egg whites. Aviation gin and Absolute vanilla vodka provided the base, blended with Heering cherry, cantaloupe, cranberry bitters, and egg white. While there are a lot of sweet tones, the overall drink is lighter. The cantaloupe finish is refreshing.
In recognition of it actually being the evening of the winter solstice, we felt compelled to try “Southern Solstice.” This is a drink to be celebrated often. Sloe gin, Laird’s Applejack, Velvet Falernum, peaches, peach bitters, and lemon juice, present a sweet aroma, but the sweet is cut with the citrus and the spices of the falernum. The peach tones are subtle and blend well with the applejack.
Sticking with the Laird Applejack, we moved on to the “Kentucky Apple,” which blends the applejack with Old Overholt rye, pear cognac, pear syrup, and mint. I would classify this with the “smash” family of drinks, similar to a mojito or julep. The use of rye instead of bourbon cut back on the sweetness somewhat. This is an easy sipping drink.
One of our favorite things to do is go off menu and ask a bartender/mixologist to create us a drink that they enjoy making or consuming. This has led to some great discoveries, and we were not disappointed at Café Circa. Our mixologist sent Dwayne over with a drink for us to dissect ourselves. Our only hint was that it had a great, fun name. Cloudy with a pale celery color, the obvious tones were gin and lime. Then we found the skewered olive dropped into the drink. There was also an herbal flavor of possible cucumber. It had to be “A Dirty . . . “ something. We were close! The drink named “A Dirty English Boy” came from a friend of the bartender and his days in London.
A highlight of the evening came when the amazing Francine Reed stopped by our table to sing us her accapella version of “Miss Otis Regrets.” What a treat and what a talent. Great food, inventive and fresh cocktails, and fabulous vocals all shared with good friends. Can’t wait to head back to the Fourth Ward and Café Circa.