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The Quest: tbt* seeks out unique flavors, sensations and products in Tampa Bay

For a great brunch cocktail, look beyond the Bloody Mary

I hate Bloody Marys.

These are fighting words, I know. Many swear by the Mary and its curative properties, others plot their entire weekends around some gargantuan build-your-own-Bloody Mary bar some unholy temple of tomato juice that garnishes drinks with bacon, pickled eggs, fried cheese, pig's feet, raw oysters, undercooked chicken, fermented durian or cartoon-style fish head and skeleton.

How did this garbage disposal of a drink become the world's a.m. libation of choice? And don't try to sell me on the mimosa, either — they're nice, cheap fun, but orange juice and a splash of sparkling wine do not a craft cocktail make.

Considering the modern cocktail renaissance we're living in, we're overdue for another foolproof morning cocktail, one that's refreshing and eye-openingly kicky, yet not too heavy to shut you down for the rest of the day ahead. (Unless that's what you're looking for, in which case: Bring on the brown!)

For starters, more places should serve milk punch. In April, the New York Times heralded a modern "milk punch revival," as some trendy bars are reviving the "sweet, cold, elegant blend of dairy and liquor that dates back centuries." Here in Tampa, milk punch is a common breakfast of champions for pirate krewes on Gasparilla, but it's hard to find year-round.

Reilly's Westshore Taphouse, though, is ahead of the curve here, with two punch-like options: The Reilly's Cinnabun Cocktail, a sweet and spicy blend of cinnamon bun-flavored vodka, Frangelico and cream; and their Whipped Cream White Russian, which mixes whipped cream vodka, Kahlua and cream. The latter, especially, goes down like a sweet, rich mocha latte, minus the dark, burnt notes of the coffee. Anytime you can order a drink at brunch that The Dude himself might abide, you should.

Another solid option is the Bourbon Milk Punch at Brick House Tavern and Tap. The blend of Maker's Mark, cinnamon, nutmeg, milk and vanilla is strong; it feels as thick as a milkshake with a figgy, almost fruity earthiness. Pair it with the Grand Marnier French Toast and you'll be set for the morning.

Among the Ciccio's family of restaurants on the SoHo strip, The Lodge has the most intriguing Sunday-brunch cocktail menu. This is a place that offers a $15 "Double Maxmosa" to wash down your Banana Stuffed French Toast, but they also offer a handful of fruity, refreshing alternatives. I was drawn to the Walk of Shame, a twist on the summer-classic French 75 — gin, lemon juice, champagne and a sweetener, in this case powdered sugar. I might have preferred the traditional simple syrup, as mine was still a bit tart on the tongue, but I still applaud the effort.

I finally found what I was looking for at Elevage, the restaurant inside the new Bern's-adjacent Epicurean Hotel. When I asked my bartender for an 11:30 a.m. drink recommendation, he chuckled, "I mean, if you want to get into it, I could pour you a shot of tequila." Instead he made me a splendid Hemingway daiquiri — Bacardi superior rum, Luxardo maraschino liqueur and grapefruit juice. So smooth and tropical.

This summer, the Epicurean has aspired to become a hotspot for weekend layabouts with its Splash Sundays, featuring DJs, cocktails and more by the pool, all starting at noon. If that's your destination, skip the Bloody Mary and start with a Hemingway daiquiri instead.

Brick House Tavern and Tap

1102 N Dale Mabry Highway, Tampa. (813) 350-9108, brickhousetavernandtap.com.

Elevage

Inside the Epicurean Hotel, 1207 S Howard Ave, Tampa. (813) 999-8726, epicureanhotel.com.

The Lodge

516 S Howard Ave., Tampa. (813) 251-5634, lodgetampa.com.

Reilly's Westshore Taphouse

3681 S West Shore Blvd., Tampa. (813) 839-7551, reillysonline.com.

For a great brunch cocktail, look beyond the Bloody Mary 07/17/14 [Last modified: Thursday, July 17, 2014 4:24pm]
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