Mad for a Certain Rum Drink
Bella Bella knows more than Italian — they speak mojito, too
I’ve always considered myself a Tampa girl with a Tallahassee heart.
I love the richness of the land here. The community’s collective personality has just the right amount of Southern charm to keep things sweet yet sassy. And I mean really, no one needs a beach when you have ancient oaks like these to picnic under. Clay castles last longer anyway.
One thing I do miss from my time in the Bay Area, though, is the Cuban-inspired flava that Florida’s culinary scene has so beautiful melded with. At the top of my tropical most-missed list are mojitos.
Yes, plural. I miss them all.
The perfect combination of spicy mint, light rum, cane sugar, refreshing lime and bubbly soda water, mojitos come to us straight from Havana, Cuba, where the spearmint leafs (or yerba buena) that give the drink its cool twist grow in abundance. If you make the beverage with Bacardi, it’s extra authentic and extra delicious. On a hot day, nothing cools you off faster.
While mojitos have become a favorite of cocktail a connoisseur like myself — hey, Hemingway drank them, too, so I’m in graceful-under-pressure company — they remain a nuisance to many bartenders. Truth be told, mojitos are a lot of work. The muddling and ratios involved make this beverage one of the more challenging highballs to master. I know this, yet I continue to order them around town. Often I’m disappointed, but I never give up. I’m a fighter. Papa would be proud.
One happy day, though, I walked into Bella Bella on Monroe Street. The cozy Italian restaurant and its tasty bubble bread have become a favorite at my house. On the menu they boast of a handcrafted “lychee-mojito.” It was perfect timing. The restaurant’s generous happy hour was in effect, and, having absolutely no idea what a lychee was, I was intrigued.
“At Bella Bella we do our own take on a traditional mojito,” said Warren Cooey, the Italian restaurant’s bar manager.
“It’s a recipe we’ve had on the menu from the very beginning. One of our past bartenders, Frank, came up with it. It’s a really good idea because lychees have such a light taste in keeping with the nature of a mojito.”
Normally when it comes to mojitos, I’m a bit of a purist. But this concoction impressed me from the first sip. It’s fresh and citrusy without being overly sweet and stinky, and doesn’t leave me missing its more traditional predecessor.
“In Tallahassee we are always hot,” said Cooey. “It might be cold a month out of the year, so you can really drink light, fruit drinks all of the time. This version keeps in that same mindset but it changes it up a bit. We like it a lot.”