by Jessie Ammons | photography by Madeline Gray
Tazza Kitchen’s inviting atmosphere lures in Cameron Village shopppers. It’s the audible merry buzz, though, that encourages them to stay. “There are nights when we know almost everybody in here,” says manager Reggie McGee. “As people are walking out the door from their table, they’re stopping and talking to people at the bar.”
Lead bartender Mara Sudol says that’s what infuses her cocktail menu: Much of her inspiration comes from “what’s going on with people here in the neighborhood,” she says. “There’s a community here. We’re a nice stopping point.” The contemporary-casual eatery serves a low-key menu of wood-fired fare including pizza, tacos and salads with an extensive wine and beer menu to match. But the cocktail menu alone makes Tazza worth a visit. “I try to use adventurous ingredients but keep it approachable,” Sudol says. “I love craft cocktails and I want other people to love craft cocktails. They shouldn’t be intimidated by the ingredient list.” Sudol keeps it approachable by relying on Tazza’s own kitchen to up the ante.“They smoke the salt, they help me out with the syrups,” she says. While she doesn’t fret over pairing flavors, “I feel like the cocktails really complement the food and vice versa.” Customers agree: McGee says cocktail sales match wine sales, and both top beer, which is atypical in casual restaurants.
The Cameron Village outpost is one of Tazza’s six locations across Virginia and the Carolinas, but McGee, who is one of the restaurant group’s original founders, says each is unique. There are menu mainstays and shared recipes, but individual flair and a unique cocktail menu reflect particular locations. McGee says the Cameron Village restaurant’s balance between family-friendly and trendy comes from a bar-focused design. “We wanted the entire restaurant to feel the energy of the bar” without sitting there, or even ordering a drink, McGee says. No matter where you sit, “you hear laughing and ice cracking and the music from the bar area. You get the energy from it, but you can still be separated if you want.”
Sudol rotates her cocktail menu at least seasonally, and more if inspiration strikes. She says her recipe for “The Here & Now” is a good late summer drink because it’s tart but fruity, both refreshing and herbal. And a reminder to relish the summer while it lasts.
The Here & Now
¾ ounce fresh lime juice
1 ½ ounces honeydew mint shrub (recipe below)
¼ ounce green chartreuse
½ ounce silver tequila (such as El Jimador)
1 ½ ounces gin (such as Beefeater)
Sprig of mint, for garnish
Add all ingredients to a cocktail shaker, add ice and shake. Strain into a glass over fresh ice. Garnish with a mint sprig.
Honeydew Mint Shrub
1 whole honeydew
1 cup mint leaves
4 cups white sugar
4 cups cold water
1 ½ cups white balsamic vinegar
Remove the honeydew rind and cut fruit into small chunks.
Puree the honeydew and mint in a food processor or blender, then pour into a pot. Add the water and sugar, and heat pot on stove over low heat.
Remove from heat, strain with a fine mesh strainer and add the vinegar.