Lemonata

Boogaloo, 7344 Manchester Road, Maplewood; 314-645-4803.

Drink of the Week has never been farther south than Miami, but from what we've learned via episodes of Fantasy Island and the books of Graham Greene — no, wait, we've never read Greene — the Caribbean is somewhere we'd like to visit. There's something about the chunka-chunkarhythms, the zen vibe, the sense that islanders seem to live more than they progress that is very alluring to the oft-sedentary Drink of the Week.

The Congos have been on our sound system a hell of a lot, however, so we know a little more than your average Missourian. The Congos — Cedric Myton and Roy Johnson — released in 1974 one of the great albums of any genre: The Heart of the Congos, a Jamaican hymn to fishermen, Nicodemus and Jah that captured the essence of the islands. It's fluid reggae perfection, produced by bona fide genius Lee "Scratch" Perry, with mellifluous harmonies, a deep bass and, above all, an overwhelming sense of purpose.

"Sodom and Gomorrow" sings across the shotgun-style main room of Boogaloo, the hopping Maplewood eat- and drinkery at the heart of the Manchester strip: "There at the turning point/To reality/They keep on burning." It's a good sign. Music makes the room. And a place named Boogaloo better have its musical wits about it. Luckily, the place has got co-owner Doug Morgan, host of KDHX's Underworld. In addition to running the joint, he programs the iPod.

"I was resistant to iPod technology," Morgan admits, "but for the restaurant, it's a dream. Nine hundred songs, handpicked. I never hear a song I don't like."

Boogaloo's bar, most know by now, isn't lined with stools. Rather, swings hang from the ceiling and make the barflies look like drunken six-year-olds. There, and throughout the two rooms, people drink rum and tequila drinks, staples of island life. The restaurant's drink menu is awash in rhum (they use the French spelling here). Boogaloo offers, of course, Latin staples like the caipirinha, Cuba libre and mojito, but extends the menu further with a ginger mojito. It looks brilliant on paper — mint, lime, sugar, rhum and a ginger puree — but in the glass it's too heavy on the sugar and too light on the lime.

But the lemonata is perfect, and the one you should order: tequila, lemonade, soda and ginger puree blended in a tall glass. It recalls the great drink the paloma (tequila, grapefruit juice, lemon and sugar), but with an added dimension. The ginger puree is the workhorse here; its curious spiciness plays well with citrus and tequila. We could drink many of these.

The lemonata goes particularly well with wasabi-encrusted tuna and conch fritters, both of which kick total ass at Boogaloo. Paired with citrus and ginger, the flavors are a perfect weave with both the drink and the music. On the sound system, a Cuban-tinged big-band number is punching out some brass, while a percussionist is going crazy on the timbales. Boogaloo is afire, and the crowd is wide awake.

 
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