The great Toronto Caesar challenge: cherry tomato
With a name like Hair of the Dog, it's no wonder this little Church Street hole in the wall is the often repeated answer to my "best Caesar in Toronto" questions. In preparing for the series I wanted to get an idea of those little spots I might have missed, that I didn't yet know about. The goal is to be as thorough and fair as possible, but with only 14 days I'm sure to miss something.
With Hair of the Dog I fulfill two requirements though. The first, is to be able to cross one more of those "must have" Caesars off the list. The second though, and perhaps the one that makes Hair of the Dog a little more controversial than the others, is its Clamato. Purists often insist it comes from the jug, like you'll find in the grocery store, but at Hair of the Dog - gasp - it's on tap.
Yes, at Hair of the Dog Clamato is on tap, but to tell you the truth, it didn't matter. I understand the aversion, you can't really trust juice from a gun, but more important than the source of the Clamato is the chemistry of the overall beverage. A poorly made Caesar will make substandard Clamato very obvious, but a well-constructed one should keep each flavour in check, not relying on any single ingredient too much.
I have good news, at the Hair of the Dog; they make a very good Caesar. Flecks of horseradish mix in between streams of dark, muddy Worcestershire and seasoned to perfection with a few good shakes of salt and pepper. The reason a Caesar works so well is that it touches all the flavours on the palate, there's sweetness in the Clamato, sourness from the lime, heat from Tabasco and touch of bitterness from the briny olive and pickle garnish, even the savory tang is addressed with the Worcestershire.
The pint glass can be forgiven here since this is a 2oz cocktail. And the garnish is a veritable platter of treats: a cherry tomato, green olive, dill pickle, cucumber slice and lime wedge. It's enough to keep snacking from first sip to last. But there is a method to a sophisticated garnish like this. It's best to start with the pickle to perk up the taste buds, then once settled into the drink bite into the cherry tomato to deepen the flavour of the drink. Just as the horseradish starts to concentrate toward the end, it's good to turn to the olive to stand up to the pungency. Then after the last sip, eat the cucumber to cleanse the palate. Or course, the lime should have been squeezed into the drink at the beginning.
The drink itself doesn't stray too far into unchartered water; it's just a great cocktail. This is a Caesar made by people who drink Caesars and know what a great one tastes like. No single flavour overpowers the next and the rim provids just the right amount of lip licking saltiness. Extra points definitely go to the garnish, but as far as distinction goes it's all in the balanced blend inside the glass and that ain't bad.
At $6.99 for a 2oz cocktail, this is a great deal. It's basically the most well rounded drink I've tried so far and still clocks in at under $10.00 with tax and tip. It's no bargain basement Caesar, but kind of a happy balance. Nothing has been sacrificed to keep price points down - the garnish is elaborate - but it remains at a reasonable price.
TOTAL SCORE: 19/25 (76%)
I realize there are many out there who would scoff at Clamato from a gun, but remember, it's not a Caesar from a gun. The trick is finding the harmony between everything and if there is enough Worcestershire, horseradish and Tabasco, the Clamato flavour shouldn't be sitting way on top anyway. I get it, the gun can sometimes be too thin and that is a problem, but not at Hair of the Dog, at Hair of the Dog they do it just right.
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