We Canadians apparently drink about 400 million of them a year. The rest of the world combined apparently drinks only 150 million. I’ve always been bewildered as to why. Their loss, our gain, I guess.
I’m talking about the caesar or, as its sometimes known, the bloody caesar. The younger brother of that far more popular lady, bloody mary. The drink that much to the dismay of many, but the delight of many others, includes clam juice in its ingredients.
Though I found documentation of clam and tomato juice making an appearance in a cocktail at New York’s Polonaise nightclub as early as November, 1953, we Canadians consider the caesar to be the creation of Walter Chell, restaurant manager of the Calgary Inn.
In 1969, inspired by spaghetti a la vongole, Walter developed a signature drink for the inn’s new Owl’s Nest restaurant by combining vodka with mashed clams, tomato juice, Worcestershire sauce and Tabasco. One cloudy Sunday morning in 1976, I took a pricey cab across most of Calgary just to thank Walter.
One sunny Saturday morning, this past January, I took a walk across most of San Miguel de Allende to Kenny’s Place. It was Robbie Burns Day, the day when we of Scottish heritage drink disgustingly large amounts of Scotch Whiskey with labels we can’t pronounce and think we’ll remember all of the words to Robbie Burns’ “To A Mouse”. But it was 11:00 am, early even for a Scot to have his first sip of malt.
I asked fellow Canadian and Kenny’s proprietor Kenny Peters, “Can you make me a caesar?”
“I can and I will”, replied Kenny.
I examined the glass. The frosty red rim. The sprouting celery stick. And the abundance of accoutrements. I took a sip. And then a gulp. And looked at Kenny.
“That’s a mighty good caesar. That might be the best caesar I’ve had in my life”, I said to Kenny.
Kenny didn’t say anything. Kenny just beamed. I like when a bartender beams, I like when anyone beams.
About a month went by before I went back to Kenny’s. My friend Lloyd was in town. Lloyd likes vodka. There’s vodka in a caesar. Lloyd was living about a hop, skip and a vodka from Kenny’s. I asked if he’d join me for breakfast.
We saddled up on the stools and ordered the breakfast special. Chile with…well you know what with…the caesar.
It takes Kenny Peters a while to make a couple of caesars. But it’s a good spectator sport. And, as there aren’t too many other live sports to watch these days, it’s a sport well worth watching.
A Kenny Peters caesar begins with the generous rimming of a handled mason jar with a chunky grind of salt, pepper, celery seed and bacon…yes, bacon.
Next come three cubes of ice and then a count to seven of vodka through the slow pour neck.
“Any vodka works”, said Kenny. “But if you want to pay me extra for a fancy label, I’ll take your money.”
Next comes clamato juice, almost to the rim. Invented by an apple sauce canner called Mott’s. Not in Canada. But in New Jersey. Even though 83% of clamato sales are supposedly in Canada. And another 9% in Mexico…but mostly in micheladas, not caesars.
Now people think clamato is a mixture of clam and tomato juice. Which it is and it isn’t. There are other ingredients such as garlic, onions, citrus and chile and then there’s the very special ingredient. One that there’s more of in clamato than even clams.
To a certain small percentage of the population, this special ingredient in clamato causes headaches and heart palpitations, numbness and nausea. To the rest of the population, including me, it creates a delightful little buzz whenever it is added to alcohol. I’m talking about that mystical mixture called monosodium glutamate and clamato has more MSG in it than any other drink I know of.
Next to grace Kenny Peters’ caesar is a fist-clench of lime, four drops of tabasco, a dash of bitters, and a splash of some chocolate brown liquid that lives in a plastic squeezee that Kenny calls “the secret ingredient” which I’ve guessed at but never quite guessed right at…and yes, I’ve tried Worcestershire…and Maggi.
By now, your dry tongue may be already hanging out in anticipation of this delightful drink but there are still quite a few seconds to go in the performance. Kenny still has to add the celery stick, the wedge of lime, the kebob of cocktail shrimp, corn, cherry tomato, olive, and cucumber and the shaving of beef jerky.
“All of the important food groups”, says Kenny. “The top’s the best part and by the time you get to the bottom, it really doesn’t matter.”
“It looks like a work of art”, said my friend Lloyd as he held his glass up to the light to admire the caesar before taking his first sip.
Then, after a healthy swallow, he twisted his head to look at Kenny Peters, stared at him for a moment, and added, “It was obviously created by a great artist.”
Kenny’s Place is located at Julián Carrillo 7, Colonia Guadalupe, San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. They are open from 9:00 am to 9:00 pm, every day but Tuesday.