‘Bitter is better:’ Plant adds classic cocktails

Plant's Negroni (foreground) and Old Green Tie (background) are two of the four cocktails offered on the new drink menu. Photo by Kat McReynolds
Plant's Negroni (foreground) and Old Green Tie (background) are two of the four cocktails offered on the new drink menu. Photo by Kat McReynolds

Plant, North Asheville’s vegan restaurant, has new menu items coming out of the kitchen – but not on plates. The eatery unveiled a selection of cocktails earlier this summer, and the spirited beverages are gaining momentum among parched patrons.

“We’re indebted to all the classic cocktails,” explains Plant chef and owner Jason Sellers, pointing out the theme of the new cocktail menu. He says the restaurant’s drinks are pre-Prohibition, pre-martini cocktails, most of which contain at least one substituted ingredient. For instance, Plant’s Manhattan uses a house maraschino fig instead of a cherry, and its Negroni replaces Campari with Aperol to eliminate the use of gelatin.

Currently, the only signature cocktail is the Old Green Tie, a Thai basil version of a gin and tonic, which was appropriately served during a recent sampling with Radiohead’s “All I Need” drifting throughout the eatery’s main dining area.

A peach and habañero margarita will also debut soon, but “bitter is better” according to Sellers, who is not interested in exploring overly fruity or sweet cocktails. He co-created the menu with employees Cammie Jensen and Nathan Burrows, and the team hopes to introduce a rotating cast of cocktails over time.

Sellers keeps his beer selection limited in part because he’s not a beer enthusiast (at least not by Asheville standards), but also because his customers don’t demand a high volume of the beverage. Instead, the new line of cocktails, priced from $8 to $11 per drink, has already proved favorable among regulars.

“There’s just so much flavor coming out of a cocktail,” says Sellers, “and there’s more of a culinary approach to cocktails, so we appreciate them for that.” The restaurateur finds spirited drinks to be more interactive than beer because they can be intellectualized further.

Sellers does pair wine with his foods, but says it would be overstated to assign specific pairings for the cocktails, since the drinks and meals both balance many complex flavors. He prefers to recommend cocktails based on other factors.

“We pair wine with food. We pair cocktails with timing and mood,” explains the chef. The Old Green Tie is light and perfect for summer sipping even without an entrée. Plant’s Last Word, on the other hand, is often recommended after the main course, because it’s a shorter pour with higher alcohol content – perfect for a belly full of vegan delights.

Three months of liquor license processing finally paid off for Sellers, who says he couldn’t serve cocktails for years due to budgeting constraints. Sadly, the restaurant’s espresso machine was evicted from the service counter in favor of the 10 bottles of booze and mixing accessories required for the cocktails, but so far, nobody is complaining.

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