Got a surplus of watermelons? Some of us might be tempted to stage a food fight. Café Belong’s Renata Clingen is far more inventive: She made the perfect spring drink.
$9 at Café Belong, 550 Bayview Ave. (at Evergreen Brick Works)
For Renata Clingen, there’s no place like home. “Whenever I’m at a cocktail competition and I’m asked for my inspiration, I always seem to start with, ‘Well, I was at home for Christmas…’” she says. “If I get stumped, my go-to solution is always to visit home.”
And since home is practically farm country in eastern Ontario—her grandparents were dairy farmers, and Alexandria, Ontario, is a decidedly small town—it’s unsurprising that Clingen’s new drink, Necessity, was inspired by an abundance of fresh, local produce. “The name comes from the fact that the drink grew out of necessity,” she explains. “We had way too many yellow watermelons at the restaurant, so I added fresh Thai basil from our herb garden and made a syrup.”
Combining that watermelon-basil syrup with Gosling’s rum and elderflower sparkling water, Necessity is fresh and sweet, served up in a short glass. It’s the kind of spring drink that you have in order to drag yourself out of a winter rut with the promise that good times (and long days, and patio season) really are on the way. Better still, this drink is one of nearly a dozen of Clingen’s cocktails that fit the overall philosophy of Café Belong and its owner, chef Brad Long, which is an emphasis on the “sustainable, local, and organic.” Since Clingen has always taken a culinary approach to cocktails—experimenting with brave ingredients like plantains, curry spice, and sea buckthorn berries—this gig is a perfect fit. And it doesn’t hurt that the café is located at the Evergreen Brick Works, the jewel in the crown of Toronto’s post-industrial reclamation projects and a stunning setting where she can forget that she’s in the middle of a megacity.
That suspension of disbelief is on particular display when the restaurant’s forager arrives for his frequent visits, armed with items that few of us would recognize as cocktail ingredients. On a recent week, for example, Clingen was experimenting with spruce tips, which are destined to be mixed with blueberries and bourbon. Admittedly, this might all be a little more haute-foodie than what Clingen grew up with in the Ottawa Valley. But it’s about as close to home as she can get in the 416.
Renata Clingen’s Necessity
Gosling’s rum + Yellow watermelon–Thai basil syrup + Elderflower sparkling water + Ice + Thai basil–leaf garnish