As the weather turns cool, some people are relishing the autumnal ritual of donning a sweater and drinking a pumpkin beer. Others, however, simply dream of escaping to the tropics. And one of the best ways to let summer linger is found inside the ceramic coconut of a tiki cocktail.
Finding one in Pittsburgh, however, can be challenging. Although the South Side boasts Carson Street's Tiki Lounge, for the most part, "Pittsburgh tiki culture is still pretty thin," says Craig Mrusek, Verde bartender and the city's resident tiki expert. He says that there isn't demand for more tiki drinks in Pittsburgh because the cocktails "still struggle with the reputation of being overly sweet, candy-colored rum bombs."
But tiki delights are often found in surprising places. Take Sesame Inn, a locally owned chain of four Chinese restaurants. While the establishment doesn't have a reputation as a cocktail haven, it has a limited selection of tiki drinks that should please those in need of a quick fix of the tropics.
The restaurants (which share a similar cocktail list) offer 11 tropical cocktails. The juices in the drinks might not be freshly squeezed, but the blended concoctions are potent, not overly sweet, and certainly pleasing to look at. Plus, at $6.50-7 a pop, they're a very good deal.
There are tiki classics like The Zombie, Fog Cutter and Mai Tai on the menu, plus a few Caribbean-inspired mixes. Coco Loco, for example, is actually a popular Dominican cocktail; Sesame Inn has tikified the drink by swapping out coconut rum for a mix of gin and coconut milk. The result is an airy infusion of South Seas flavor.
Speaking of hybrids, would Mrusek consider creating a Latino-tiki cocktail collection for Verde?
He says that certain factors (cost of ingredients, prep time involved in making a tiki cocktail at a high-volume bar) might preclude tiki drinks from regularly appearing on the menu. But "Personally," he says, "I'd love it."