Though coolers of ice-cold beer may be the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the phrase “fishing trip,” Jimmy Palumbo of Belle Shoals (10 Hope Street, Brooklyn; 718-218-6027) thinks of Grand Marnier. Known fondly as “Jimbo,” the North Carolina native has an appreciation of the orange-flavored liqueur thanks to his father’s surf-fishing outings to North Carolina’s Ocracoke Island in the Outer Banks. And indeed, the spirit’s warm burn offers the perfect metaphor for the area’s famed howling winds.
When Palumbo was tapped as the head bartender of Belle Shoals — a bar modeled after a fictional Southern town, with hospitable touches like Cheerwine, fried duck leg on a biscuit, and po’boys — making room for a Grand Marnier cocktail was a must. “If you go to Charleston and Georgia, and a lot of places in the South, you’ll see people drinking Grand Marnier straight,” says Palumbo. “It’s an eighty-proof spirit. It’s designed to be something you could sip as a base of a cocktail. We wanted to kind of highlight and focus on that. We wanted to figure out a way to kind of incorporate [the idea] that people drink [Grand Marnier] straight, so then we had the idea of using mini-bottles.”
The result? The Auntie Bellum, a cocktail that allows guests to get involved in the mix — literally. A TSA-friendly mini-bottle of Grand Marnier sits nestled on a bed of crushed ice at the top of the cocktail for guests to add. The amount of that sweet orange spirit to put in the drink is left completely up to them.
While the Grand Marnier is perfectly enjoyable on its own, Palumbo wanted to demonstrate the drink’s versatility — and not just in dishes like duck à l’orange and crêpes suzette. Like at most Southern-themed bars, food is an integral part of the experience here, so pairing drinks with the menu was equally important to Palumbo. And in some cases, Southern dishes inspired the actual drinks — like the Auntie Bellum.
“We just had to figure out a culinary thing that could also fit with [Grand Marnier]. Immediately, we went with the ambrosia salad — everybody’s favorite winner for the potluck,” Palumbo explains. The classic ambrosia salad recipe varies depending on who’s making it, but common ingredients include oranges, coconut, toasted marshmallow, sugar, nuts, and fresh citrus.
“The main challenge for that was to make sure we weren’t making a drink that was just a dessert…that was too sweet,” Palumbo notes. To help stifle some of the sweetness in the ambrosia-inspired cocktail, he chose coconut water to make his coconut syrup. The bartender also opted for a Lustau Amontillado sherry for its notes of toasted almond, fresh lemon juice for acidity, and tiki bitters to add some island spice.
Palumbo was mindful in choosing specific ingredients to ensure nothing would damage the purity of the Grand Marnier. By allowing guests to add in the orange flavor, they’re able to devise their own final touch to an ambrosia salad designed for the liquid-diet crowd. The toasted marshmallow garnish was added to give guests the textural sensation of that crispy, creamy feeling found in a spoonful of the actual dessert. “When you eat that salad, if that flavor, marshmallow, wasn’t there, it would just be that weird filling of a pie without the pie,” explains Palumbo. “You kind of need that toasty marshmallow flavor to tie it all back around.”
Finally, for guests who just want to sip on a sherry cocktail and keep the Grand Marnier accompaniment for a nightcap, that’s fine, too. “Whatever you want to make of this cocktail — go nuts!” jokes Palumbo.
Palumbo gave the Voice the recipe for those of you who’d like to try the Auntie Bellum at home — though you’ll be missing out on Belle Shoals’ vintage Wurlitzer jukebox.
Auntie Bellum by Jimmy “Jimbo” Palumbo of Belle Shoals
.75 oz. fresh lemon juice
1 mini bottle of Grand Marnier
.5 Lustau Amontillado Sherry
.5 oz. coconut syrup
3 dashes tiki bitters
Combine all ingredients except the Grand Marnier. “Whip shake” the ingredients with crushed ice and dirty-dump (pour the ingredients without straining) into a lowball glass. Add more crushed ice and top with the Grand Marnier mini-bottle and a skewer of toasted mini-marshmallows.