Thursday, March 29, 2012
Mixologist Michael Martensen makes mean margarita at Cedars Social in Dallas
Mortensen talks about the different varieties he makes and why most traditional margaritas aren't good.
With Cinco de Mayo looming and spring shedding its warmth on Dallas, we thought it appropriate to do a series on the margarita in Dallas, from the perspective of those who will be creating, crafting, mixing, and serving them. Today, Mixologist Michael Martensen of The Cedars Social (and formerly The Rosewood Mansion) gives us his perspective on spring – and summer’s – ubiquitous cocktail, and provides a little history lesson or two in the process.
Entree Dallas: Thanks for taking the time to talk with us, Michael. Let’s begin with the beginning of the margarita – there are a lot of stories about how the drink came about; what’s your take?
Mortensen: Well, from the research that I’ve done personally, and the research that people have done in the past, really there are two primary stories that I’ve heard, and one comes from Dallas. That one starts with a group of Dallas socialites who traveled down to the border and started drinking tequila. They wanted to soften it up, so they threw some lime and some sugar, and voilà , they invent the margarita, more or less. It’s a great story, it’s good fun, and it brings Dallas into it – which is always a good thing.
But what I understand is that the true margarita was honestly a mistake by an Irish bartender working down in Tijuana right before Prohibition ended. During Prohibition you had everybody from the United States traveling to Cuba, to Mexico, to Canada for vacation because they could drink in those countries. So a writer – a travel writer from Iowa that wrote for the Chicago Tribune – and his wife had traveled down to Tijuana, and walked into an Irish bar. This was a true Irish bar – with an Irish bartender – in Tijuana. So, this writer ordered a daisy, which is an old, old cocktail – in the sour family – that was lime, sugar, and whiskey that was shaken with some Curaçao as well; people may use triple sec today, but it was Curacao at the time. So the writer had actually ordered a cognac daisy. But the bartender picked the wrong bottle – the bottle was tequila – and made the tequila daisy.
To me, that story makes more sense than the other one, because it certainly happens, first of all. Bartenders can make a mistake by grabbing the wrong bottle, especially at that time when really, how many labels were on these bottles? And of course the other thing that makes sense is that margarita translates to daisy in English. So, to me that story to me has a little more clout. Dave Wondrich actually did the research on that story, and he is pretty much the foremost cocktail historian in the world. He found the articles from that writer in Iowa, so for me, I’m going to accept that as the true story about the margarita. It has more substance to it. It’s not "Oh wow, heard it across the bar." And that’s where I heard the story about the margarita: I was working for Mansion, and a lot of Dallas socialites were hanging out there, "Oh yeah, such and such, yeah we invented it."
Now, the frozen margarita was created in Dallas, and there’s no ifs, ands or buts about that. The frozen margarita came from Mariano Martinez at Mariano’s in the early '70s (1971), and he patented the frozen margarita machine – and he made a mint on that. Yes, the frozen did come from Dallas.
Clearly, there’s more than one way to make it, what do you consider to be a true margarita today?
A margarita should be quality tequila – 100 percent agave, has to be 100 percent agave – fresh lime juice and then simple syrup; a one-to-one syrup with cane sugar. It should also have a couple dashes of Curaçao – just that little orange touch. Like you said, though, there’s different styles of margaritas from even around this country. To me, the best margarita bar in the entire country is actually in San Francisco; it’s a place called Tommy’s. He was the first guy to really start doing agave margaritas. He does his with quality 100 percent agave tequila, agave syrup, fresh lime juice, and that’s it – it’s delicious; really amazing.
So we’ve got the fresh lime juice with cane syrup and Curaçao – that’s really the traditional daisy-margarita – and then we’ve got Tommy’s margarita, which is the fresh lime juice and 100 percent agave nectar for sweetener instead of cane syrup. Of the two, I prefer the agave, I really do. Now, Tommy’s does some things to their agave syrup, that if you taste their agave syrup you can pick up on, and we take the same approach here – there’s rose water, orange blossom water, and a couple other things; we doctor our agave syrup, we cut it. It becomes more aromatic, which in my mind makes a better margarita.
Then, of course, there’s the third margarita that comes to mind, which is the margarita I don’t recommend anybody drink or make, and that’s the one with tequila, sweet and sour mix, and Curaçao, and (pauses) ... it’s not good, and I wouldn’t ever suggest going with that. But if you take the time to do that fresh juice - the lime juice – it’s delicious, I love it.
What should be the defining aspects of a margarita from a perspective of taste?
Just as any cocktail, all the parts should play a role. You should taste the lime, the tequila – you should taste agave from the tequila – and you should have maybe a couple hints of that orange note in there. Predominately, though, a balance between tequila and lime. I don’t recommend having salt on my margaritas. I don’t know why people put salt on their margaritas – it just really kills the flavor. If you want to do a little pinch of salt in the margarita, that’s fine. But to do a salt rim where you are licking salt, more or less – we try not to serve them like that here. We really try not to do it.
And the style of serving?
On the rocks, in a old fashioned glass, something, you know, ten and a half ounces roughly, nice big cubes, and a lime wedge if you need it a little more tart.
Thanks for you time, Michael. Since we’re here, though, we would be remiss to not try one of your margaritas, wouldn’t we?
Oh, definitely. It’s hot today, and they’re very refreshing.
Pegasus News Content partner - Entree Dallas
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