That’s Amaro

I recently reviewed STG Trattoria in Atlanta for Creative Loafing, and while I think the kitchen at STG still needs to uncover its true voice, the heavily amaro-centric cocktail list is already a unique and compelling aspect of this restaurant. Actually, “cocktail” may not be the right word in a literal sense – with the exception of a Negroni and and an “Italian” Manhattan, STG’s bar really offers “aperitif sodas” with an array of Italian aperitif options, plenty of juice and soda, but no (or minimal) heavy alcohol.

Over several visits, the basic menu (shown below) has remained roughly the same. The formula is aperitif (such as a barolo chinato, or Aperol, or an amaro) + fruit juice (such as lemon or lime) + soda (such as ginger ale or tonic or cola or sparkling mineral water) + bitters. Of course, there are a few twists along the way, like a touch of absinthe in the mix in the “Reviver Pop.” And the results all fall on a spectrum that starts off heavily bitter (the “Cynar Lime Soda” packs a dry vegetal bite) and moves to equal parts sweet and bitter (the “My Amaro Cola” uses Mexican Coke for a heavy dose of sugar sweetness). My favorite choice for a hot summer day is the “Aperol Orange Soda,” for its bright citrus acidity and its powerfully refreshing base bitterness. These drinks are ideal to start off a meal, cooling you down, whetting your appetite with a not-too-strong kick in the pants, putting you in the mood for something rich and indulgent to counter the bracing jolt of the drink. The price is right too – six bucks seems like a bargain drink these days, and these beauties are worth every penny.

Cocktail purists will not be thrilled that there’s not a fulltime bartender on duty – the two heavy duty cocktails on the menu are pre-batched and the sodas are (in theory) easy enough for anyone to throw together. I must say that the pre-batched cocktails work wonderfully: the Negroni being everything you want in this classic cocktail, and the Italian Manhattan offering a rich and intriguing twist on its American counterpart. But I have had some variability of quality on the aperitif sodas, suggesting it may be worth the staff’s time to have some more in-depth training on putting these sodas together properly.

STG’s cocktail menu is definitely different, not trying to be all things to everyone, staking out a specific area of focus that fits perfectly with a menu heavy on pizzas and Italian-inspired plates with local ingredients. It’s also the kind of menu that will benefit over time from a thoughtful bartender who can take the basic formula and apply both creativity and a knowledge of the classics to come up with some new takes. I look forward to more amaro at STG. Maybe even a few flights of straight amaros and aperitifs to help diners/drinkers become more familiar with these Italian masterpieces. When the moon hits your eye, like a big pizza pie, that’s …