New Orleans’ Red Fish Grill is one of those hidden in plain sight gems. It’s an establishment that offers top-notch cocktails… at a family-oriented restaurant… amid the chaos of Bourbon Street(?!). But after the recent work of bartender Melanie Glueck, it may not stay secret for long. Red Fish Grill now has the potential to turn into an immediate it spot, attracting disciples of today’s most beloved weekend ritual.
After all, the restaurant recently became the official home for the nation’s most creative Bloody Mary.
Last month, Glueck pureed and stirred in a competition against 12 of the nation’s best Bloody Mary artists at Chopped/the Food Network’s Best Bloody Mary Brunch. The event was the culmination of a gruesome competition that involved hundreds of drinks made across the country; a competition where Glueck needed her creation to first stand out solely on the merits of a picture and the recipe alone. But after having her Verde Mary, voted the best in state, Glueck was chosen by the contest creators to vie for the nation’s top spot. She only needed to travel to NY, perform at her best in front of the Chopped judges, and serve about 850 Bloody Marys.
“Actually, it wasn’t hard at all,” Glueck says. “We’re pretty busy at Red Fish Grill, on some days we’ll do about 800 guests. So we were well prepared to make samples; we make that many full sized cocktails here. [In NY], I had my bar assistant with me to help, and we just made gallons of it. We preset all our garnishes—nice cherry tomatoes and green onion straws—and served them to the guests. And they were impressed to see something different in a Bloody Mary.”
While Glueck’s alternative take on the classic didn’t earn the top overall prize (that went to a more traditional interpretation from Texas bartender David Wakefield), her Verde Mary was awarded Most Creative. It’s a drink that may look foreign to Bloody purists (literally, it’s light green). It ditches the traditional base and opts for a combination of yellow heirlooms and Tomatillo (a green tomato also known as the Mexican Husk Tomato, found in a traditional salsa verde). That combination lightens the Verde Mary’s color, heft on the stomach and flavor.
From there the ingredients only get further off-beat—there’s a Lemon vodka (Absolut Citron) instead of a plain or peppered variety, cilantro that enhances the alcohol’s citrus tones and more of a reliance on onions (both pickled and green) than olives. Add in celery salt instead of table or sea options, and Glueck’s original concoction leaves virtually every traditional Bloody Mary box unchecked.
“After tasting a dozen different Bloody Marys, people would come to my table and say they’re full, or ‘This one was so spicy, this one was too strong,’” she says. “I’d say let me pour you a little taste of mine. It’s totally different, not something you find anywhere else. With a traditional red tomato Bloody Mary, you’ll get something that’s heavier, not as easy to drink and not as appealing. The Verde has very light, refreshing and rounded flavors—nothing overpowering. And it didn’t have too much spice, too much garlic, too much cilantro. It’s a balanced, light recipe.”
Glueck’s new cult status as the mad scientist of the Mary means she’s also the best person to ask for advice. Luckily for those who want to become weekend cocktail warriors but lack the pantry necessary to make a true Verde Mary, Glueck was happy to offer easy to use tips on spicing up (figuratively overall, literally in some cases) a homemade Bloody Mary. “Bloody Marys are actually one of my favorite cocktails,” she notes. “I make ‘em at home all the time. Anytime my friends get together at the house, they always ask what I’m going to do this time.”
Glueck says experimentation is the first key to improving your Bloody Marys. That’s how she ended up getting away from a traditional red tomato, but the quickest way for home bartenders to do similar testing is through the vodka. You can stay loyal to a classic Bloody Mary but enhance its noteworthy spice with a pepper vodka for instance. But Glueck says to not shy away from the fruit and citrus vodkas that may first appear like an odd choice. “You must experiment, and you’ll be surprised what works well,” she says. “I’ve done fruit Bloody Marys that are actually nice, a little mango in there brings out totally different flavors.”
If savory is the top priority, Glueck recommends readily available remedies like a little beef broth (“thickens up the mix,” and adds flavor) and Worchester sauce. The other easy upgrade is to veer away from olive reliance. Glueck prefers the tartness of a cocktail onion or pickled spicy beans instead, both are available at most major groceries.
But like any award-winning bartender, Glueck’s ever-lasting advice is to try, try again until finding what works for you. That’s why her own tinkering doesn’t stop with breakfast, even if she realizes that may be her top order for a while. “I guess the Bloody Mary is my signature for now, but I experiment all over the board,” she says. “I like vodka drinks, and I do a lot of infusions with vodka rather than just buying flavored vodkas. And I actually like cognac cocktails. A traditional French 75 is a gin cocktail, but I prefer mine with cognac, it’s one of my favorite drinks to make.”
Recipe by Melanie Glueck
1 ½ parts Absolut Citron
4 parts tomatillo and heirloom tomato puree
½ part jalapeno, cilantro, onion, and garlic puree
1 pinch celery salt
2 pieces of lime (squeezed)
1 fresh jalapeno
1 marinated olive
1 cocktail onion
1 cherry tomato
1 pickled okra
1 green onion straw
Directions: Fill a pint glass with ice and add the vodka. Add the tomato puree (blend well in a blender), jalapeno puree, lime and celery salt. Stir and garnish.