Joe Campanale is a really nice guy. Wouldn’t you be if you got to drink for a living? The beverage director and co-owner of dell’anima, L’artusi, Anfora, and the recently opened, L’Apicio, Campanale brings a distinct warmth to his cocktail and wine lists. Conversations with the former Babbo sommelier have a similar feel to evenings spent slowly sipping drinks at any of his bustling, yet intimate, restaurants. Like a personified cocktail, he brings two parts intellect, one part advice and a dash of humor to his speech. Earlier this week, Campanale chatted with Fork in the Road about festive holiday recipes, his formula for success, and what he’ll get his mom for Christmas.
With the exception of Anfora, your restaurants all start with ‘L apostrophe’. Is that combination involved in your success?
When we originally opened up we just fell in love with the name dell’anima. It was a reminder that we had to keep it soulful. L’artusi was a total coincidence. When we were choosing a name for L’Apicio, I think that it won out because of the L apostrophe- it’s true. We thought that it would help people recognize us and know that it’s part of the same family. It’s almost like an internal joke with us now but it wasn’t intentional in the beginning.
It seems to be working. So many people are entertaining at home in the coming weeks. What’s a festive but simple drink that can be put together before a party?
A punch is a really great idea for the holidays. They’re super easy to put together and then people can serve themselves. I like to use a basic whiskey sour as the foundation and then alter it as needed. So you’ll mix two ounces of whiskey, ¾ ounce of fresh lemon and ¾ ounce simple syrup. You can use that with other spirits, switch out the lemon for lime, use a honey-based simply syrup, or you could even use spices or apple cider instead of using some of the sugar. There are so many possibilities, but if you start with that recipe as a base, you’ll usually end up with a drink that works well.
What about wine? What’s best to serve or bring to a party?
Sparkling wines are super festive but they’re also a nice complement to richer meals. The bubbles are really refreshing and palate cleansing. But since it’s cold out, you’ll also want some full-bodied warming red wines. There is a producer called Eric Texier — you can probably find his wines in a lot of downtown stores or Brooklyn restaurants — his wines are really good value and a great product.
Any good beers?
Beer! This is a great time for seasonal beer. The Sierra Nevada Tumbler, is a dark ale and only made at this time of year. The Warwick Distillery is also making something that is kind of like a calvados, it’s an apple liquor that has some sweetness to it, that would be perfect right now. In fact, calvados would make a really fun holiday punch. You could make it like a spiced rum drink with cinnamon, all spice, a little apple cider and maybe a honey simple syrup.
So are you getting riotously drunk all the time?
No, I wish. I just don’t have the time.
But the last time that happened was…
Last Sunday night. A winemaker that I really respect was in town and having dinner at his importers house in Katonah, NY. I went up there with a couple of beverage directors and sommeliers, we opened a bottle of champagne on the way up, then did a tasting followed by a big dinner and a lot of wine. I try not to get that drunk because I wake up so early and go for a run before work, so drinking can be slightly counterproductive. But I do probably have at least a glass of wine every night.
Alcohol becomes both a job perk and an occupational hazard. What about people who don’t regularly drink at work, but are having corporate holiday dinners. How can they best order wine for the table?
Enlist the help of the sommelier. I don’t think that it makes you look inexperienced, rather I think people who ask for advice appear more comfortable in those settings. If you don’t want to announce your budget in front of a big group, just point to something that’s in the range of what you’d like to spend.
You’re known to be very close with your mom and even have brunch with her every Saturday. What are good mom-drinks to bring home for the holidays?
Well, I don’t know about other people’s moms, but mine really like Dupont Apple Cider. She loves that stuff. I think when it comes to moms, the most important thing is to get what makes them happy and get it to them quickly.