The Hip Sip

Drink to your health with a pomegranate margarita - the new fad libation in town - or at least get in a good walk looking for it.

July 22, 2004|By Stephen Kiehl | Stephen Kiehl,SUN STAFF

The pom is the bomb.

The intense red pomegranate has become the summer's hipster fruit. We first found it last month in the delicious pomegranate margarita at Holy Frijoles in Hampden. This is a refreshing, not-too-sweet pink drink that perfectly complements warm summer evenings.

Wondering if Holy Frijoles had a monopoly on the market, and desperate to find some more fantastic new drinks, The Sun went on a pomegranate pub crawl: nine bars in five hours, from Federal Hill to Canton to Mount Vernon.

The things we do for you, dear reader.

But really, we did it for our health. A glass of pomegranate juice has more antioxidants - believed to help fight heart disease, premature aging and cancer - than a glass of red wine, cranberry juice, orange juice or green tea. Plus, drinking pomegranate juice also has been shown to reduce blood pressure, and it's a good source of potassium and vitamin C.

As one ad for Pom Wonderful, one of the largest makers of pomegranate juice, says, "It's been around for 5,000 years. Drink it and you might be too."

But it's really only been in the last few years that pomegranates have really taken off in the United States, as chefs and bartenders sought creative additions to their menus and pomegranate juice became widely available. You can now get it at the local Giant, if you're willing to pay $6 a bottle. It's also, slowly, making its way into bars.

Our pomegranate search began at Blue Agave in Federal Hill, a Mexican restaurant that has deservedly earned a reputation for serving the best margaritas in town. The bartender didn't blink when we ordered two pomegranate margaritas, and we wondered if we were as hip as we thought.

The drink ($6.20 during happy hour) was a purple-chocolatey color and made with fresh lime juice, the secret house margarita mix, Herraduro Silver tequila and Citronge orange liqueur. It had a satisfying bite, though it may be a little tart for sweeter tastes. Still, those who have tired of the sticky margaritas most bars serve will find this pomegranate margarita a refreshing change.

Next up was Vespa, an Italian cafe and wine bar on Charles Street in Federal Hill. Behind the elegant bar, Claire Painter told us she had just bought some pomegranate juice "on a whim" a few days earlier and offered to make us pomegranate martinis. Deal. The drinks ($7 each) were made in individual shakers with Ketel One vodka.

While our pomegranate martinis may have looked like a cosmopolitan - pale pink with a twist - they weren't nearly as sticky and were much more refreshing. (Cosmos, like the HBO show that made them famous, Sex and the City, are now so basic cable.)

On to Canton, where we hit rock bottom. Our first stop was Cosmopolitan on Canton's O'Donnell Square. Elbowing up to the bar, we requested a pomegranate margarita. The bartender shouted back, "I don't even know what it is. I don't have the stuff to make it."

A few doors down, at Nacho Mama's, our request was greeted with a simpler response: "A what?"

Frustrated, not to mention thirsty, we changed tactics. If the local bars hadn't picked up on the pomegranate craze, then perhaps one of the chains had. They have people who track these trends, right? Off to Austin Grill on Boston Street. It did not do Baltimore proud. No poms.

Giving up on Canton, our next destination was Mount Vernon. We first hit Red Maple, a bar so cool it doesn't have its name on the door - just a white outline of a maple tree. Surely, they would have pomegranate juice. Wrong!

We walked up the street to Brewer's Art, best known for its high-alcohol content micro-brews. Bypassing the dungeon-like basement, we headed upstairs to the tasteful, softly lit main bar - a fine place for a drink. But the bartender said they haven't had pomegranate since he's been working there.

And how long would that be?

"Seven years."

Back to the street. A half-block up from Brewer's Art we found Tampico, the new Mexican restaurant owned by Mahmood Karzai. The granite bar in the front of the restaurant was inviting, and we entered with high expectations. But again, now at the sixth consecutive bar, no pomegranate.

Absolutely parched, we ordered the Tampico Especial margarita ($7.50). It had nothing to do with pomegranates, but it was still fantastic. It was made with anejo tequila, which our bartender told us is aged in an oak barrel, as well as real lime juice, shaken and served in a short glass. Very nice.

But still looking to find one more pomegranate drink before ending our quest, we came full circle: Holy Frijoles. The bar's menu describes the pomegranate margarita ($6.50) as the "Mexican Antioxidant": "Sooo good, that if you don't try this one, well, never mind."

It's made with gold tequila, triple sec, fresh lime juice and pomegranate juice, is deep pink in color and comes in a generously giant margarita glass. Yum. This pomegranate margarita wasn't nearly as tart as the one at Blue Agave.

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