A little more than a week ago, we had Lemonade Day , celebrating the sweet, cool, summery drink of lemon juice, water, and sugar. Well, today is also celebrating lemons and that tangy, citrusy taste, but it sure as hell ain’t lemonade! Lemon juice is the main ingredient of lemonade, but without the sugar and water to sweeten and dilute the juice, it’s far too sour to drink on its own. But, like the sweetened drink, the juice of a lemon has a distinctive taste that makes it a popular ingredient for foods, drinks, sauces, and any number of culinary dishes. It even has its medicinal purposes: much like oranges, lemons contain vital Vitamin C, and was used as a dietary supplement to sailors with scurvy in the 18th century. Lemon juice can be used as a marinade for fish and meat, helping not only to season the meat but tenderize it as well. And everyone knows that you can squirt a little lemon juice on top of freshly cut fruits, like peaches and apples, to help stop them from browning. We totally need a separate national food holiday for lemon juice: look at all the ways it saves us in the kitchen!
And one of the best ways I could possibly think of using lemon juice is as a mixer for some fine tasting cocktails. (I mean, lemon juice is the base ingredient for limoncello…) And I’m a little surprised to see I’ve gotten through almost 2/3 of the national food holiday calendar without hitting up the proclaimed “Best Cocktail Bar In the World” for a signature drink. Named so by Tales of the Cocktails, I’m talking about Employees Only, an exclusive bar in the West Village that has everyone buzzing. Here, the mixologists take their jobs seriously (don’t think of them as mere bartenders!) and they have the mock white doctors’ coats to prove it. There’s no point in ordering a beer or even an old classic like a Manhattan: for a place that prides itself on exquisitely-executed cocktails, you have to try out their signature drinks and hold them up to the task. Try out the West Side, an homage to the bar’s neighborhood locale that includes meyer lemon vodka, freshly squeezed lemon juice, and fresh mint. It’s a kick in the teeth for those who love strong, unapologetic drinks: with no sweetness to meter the lemon juice, you might think the West Side would be too sour to handle. But the mint works to mellow out the sourness and it turns out to be a refreshingly light cocktail. Which means that you can definitely stomach more than one! Make a reservation tonight for a full dinner to really enjoy your evening: the bar area can get pretty crowded, so grabbing a table might be the best way to satisfying sip your way through the West Side.
510 Hudson St (between 10th St & Christopher St)
Some reviews from Yelp.com:
"Not to be deterred, we decided to stay for a drink anyway, and sample their famous libations. We both had The West Side a delicious, refreshing citrus cocktail, perfect for a balmy summer night. The staff, even despite the crowds, was remarkably attentive and friendly, though I couldn’t help but chuckle at the handlebar mustaches they’ve all clearly been forced to grow."—Sam P.
"If you are from the school that a cocktail is just a cocktail, this place will educate you in the creation of well-mixed, perfectly blended drinx. A friend of a friend said this was her favorite place in all of NYC. I believe her. One cocktail turned into four, because I wanted to taste them all. I started with the Pimm’s Cup and then I had the West Side. Yummy. You can’t taste the alcohol in the Long and Fancy works of art with alcohol. Henry one of the men who make this place what it s stood behind the bar and made his own recommendations- he even made me a custom drink that was soooooooooooo delicious. I didn’t even ask what he put in it. The drinks are magical and reason enough to come by EO."—Maggie H.
But the most surprising use of lemon juice I found in New York City didn’t come in a glass. It wasn’t a cocktail, or a newfangled lemonade, or even being used as a marinade or a sauce. It’s on a pizza! All the way north in Brooklyn’s Greenpoint section, you’ll find an unassuming pizza joint called Paulie Gee’s, a family-owned pizzeria that likes to put a new spin on an old pie. They have all your traditional combinations—margherita, pepperoni, pepper and olive—but they’ve also created new pies with inventive names that’ll have you smiling while you’re munching. “In Ricotta Da Vita” includes sweet Italian sausage fennel, baby arugula, and ricotta; “Go Fig Yourself” is a sweet pizza with gorgonzola cheese, black mission figs, and orange blossom honey. But their most famous pie is named after their locale, just like Employees Only’s West Side: if you’re at Paulie Gee’s, the Greenpointer is what you want to try. Baby arugula, prosciutto di parma, and lemon juice make this a uniquely light pizza, not mired down with sausages or pepperonis. You’d worry that the lemon juice might counterract the cheese on top of the pizza, but it blends in wonderfully, giving it a fresh, citrusy taste you never expect when you bite into a slice. It’s become a hit among the locals in Greenpoint, and even slid into the last spot on Time Out New York’s Top 100 Dishes of the Year in 2011. Considering the sheer number of specialty dishes out there in the five boroughs, the humble little Greenpointer handled quite a feat!
60 Greenpoint Ave (between West St & Franklin St), Greenpoint
"Like all his pizza, the dough gets just a few minutes in his beautiful wood burning oven to give it that perfect pillowy softness and rugged crisp char. His doughs are just as good as at Kesté, my favorite Neapolitan-style pizzeria in the city. He tops the Greenpointer with fior de latte mozzarella, arugula lettuce, shred of Parmigiano-Reggiano and the most interesting addition of all: lemon juice. This is a healthy man’s pizza. I’ve never encountered lemon juice on a pizza before. You’d think the acidity would clash with the creaminess of the cheese, but it gives it a lightness and a tang that makes the perfect balance. This is the lightest pizza I’ve ever had yet it’s still loaded with so much flavor. Paulie is truly a master of flavor combinations."—Eat This NY
Some reviews from Yelp.com:
"So let’s talk about the pizza. The menu is pretty extensive, going from traditional to outside of the box, all made with the freshest and best ingredients around. I went with the Greenpointer with fior di latte (mozzarella), arugula, olive oil, lemon juice and shaved parm. This is MY perfect pizza. And it was just about damn perfect. Light, bubbly crust with slightly charred spots held the toppings sturdily—which mingled harmoniously on my palate. I love the saltiness of the parm, the spicy bitterness of the arugula and the bright zing of the lemon juice. Did I mention it was perfect? Because it was."—Elvir C.
"Even better was the Greenpointer (baby arugala, homemade mozz, olive oil, parmigiano, and lemon juice). That doesn’t sound incredible maybe, but it was perfection in simplicity. The use of lemon juice was great here, as I never considered how effective it could be on a pizza. The parmigiano was used sparingly and was very subtle here, and of course the greens were fresh and worked really well with the lemon juice."—Justin L.
Make sure you check out the updated NYC Food Holidays Mapto find this most recent holiday!