The Caesar may be Canada’s cocktail, but it’s a tad heavy for spring—so Toronto bartenders have chucked the tomato juice in favour of a lighter take.
When it comes to our reigning national drink, we may be on the cusp of a bloodless coup. First, there was Walter, an MSG-free, all-natural Caesar mix. Now, no longer content with getting rid of the additives, bartenders seem intent on ditching the tomato juice altogether. The traditionally red vodka drink has been made over in pale pink, green, and even brown: Call it the Un-bloody Caesar.
The season is ripe for it. Even though we drink the standard tomato-based Mary and Caesar year-round, they’re meaty, cold-weather drinks. A springy, lighter take on the classic was long overdue—the surprise is that this kind of initiative is happening at a chain restaurant. Boston Pizza at Front and John redefined both the brunch staple and our expectations of a pizza joint with its fresh and tangy Green Tomatillo Caesar ($5.99). Nick Nemeth, BP’s beverage director, refreshed the traditional Caesar by using tomatillo, a gooseberry cousin that gives the drink a lime-green hue and herbal-citrus lift.
If a green Caesar seems counterintuitive, the cold, brown Bull Shot ($10) at Riverside’s Table 17 is a veritable shock to the senses. This is a salty, tomato-free recreation of what bartender Mike Morrow calls “the quintessential hungover-broker drink of the 1990s.” The Bull Shot, a Bloody Mary derivative, had long fallen by the wayside, until Morrow thought to resurrect the cocktail when one of his customers came in, looking rough and carrying a can of Campbell’s consommé. Most patrons order it for the beef-bouillon novelty, but are quickly won over by the umami-rich drink’s spicy, savoury flavour.
Equally provocative is the “tomato water” listed in Fat Pasha’s Tomaccio ($11), a minimalist cocktail made with the nearly clear essence that bar manager Kathleen Shattock painstakingly extracts from Israeli tomatoes. The result look a little anemic, but the drink packs in all the sweet flavour of a ripe tomato with none of the acidity. Lemon, fennel syrup, and some fresh fennel brighten it up and add a twang of licorice, the cap on a perfectly made-over brunch staple.
The Bloody Caesar is dead. Long live the Caesar.
Boston Pizza, 250 Front St., 416-593-8555. Table 17, 782 Queen St. E., 416-519-1851. Fat Pasha, 414 Dupont St., 647-340-6142.