Vince Bommarito Jr. wisely takes a detour around the main dining room of Tony's as he escorts Drink of the Week to the restaurant's kitchen. Although we clean up real good, on this Tuesday night we're pathetically underdressed: flip-flops, bellbottoms and a white oxford with a noticeable dribble stain. Patrons of the city's toniest restaurant would probably gag on their osso buco at the mere sight of us.
Not that Vince Jr. seems to mind; he treats us with the same polite dignity he'd afford an esquire ordering a $500 bottle of Château Margaux. He's a pro at making visitors feel like royalty. It seems effortless.
Bommarito's mission tonight: to create two signature drinks for the "Celebrate Central" fundraiser, which takes place on Thursday, June 1, from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. at the Central branch of the St. Louis Public Library. The event will help support the Homework Helpers program, which provides free tutoring for city students. "It's too successful," brags Bommarito. "We need to raise more money." At the event, which will feature appetizers from some of downtown's best restaurants, organizers will have a drink-naming contest.
He leads us down a dark hallway, through the wine room which feels like a church and as we push through the kitchen doors, the silence is replaced by the clanging of a kitchen on overdrive. Two dozen chefs do the cooking dance, a graceful, freeform waltz involving saucepans, knives and spatulas.
Bommarito's been mulling a few ideas for the drinks, he says, as he enters a walk-in freezer and retrieves a bowl of mint-infused simple syrup he made earlier in the day. He grabs a tub of white peach purée and sets up a makeshift laboratory at a little stainless steel counter where bartender Edgar Dominguez is filling orders. A fortune-cookie message has been taped to the front side of a shelf. It reads, "You are the master of every situation."
Bommarito blends the mint syrup with the peach purée, a hefty dose of rum and some ice, then pours the mixture into sipping glasses. The creation is odd, but it works, a sort of bellini mojito, which hits with fresh peach and mint on the front, and the sweet sturdiness of rum on the back end.
The next drink is a killer: vodka, lemon juice, sugar and pomegranate a lemon drop turned more tart via the inclusion of the pomegranate. This is a genius drink, simple but dynamic, and oh-so-drinkable. Bommarito serves it in a highball with ice and a straw; we could slurp these down like spring water.
On the evening of Celebrate Central, celebrity mixologists including the St. Louis Post-Dispatch's Sylvester Brown, Dana Daniels of KTRS (550 AM) and former American Idol star Nikko Smith will serve the two cocktails, and attendees will be asked to concoct library-themed names for them. We'll chime in with a couple ideas: with all that peachy sweetness, the peach/mint/rum blend could easily be called "Breakfast of Champions." The pom-lemon vodka, which is a striking pale red color, would work well as "The Human Stain." But that's up to the generous souls giving their money ($55 per head) to decide. For more information check www.slplfoundation.org.