Best Of 2003

Best Bloody Mary: Saleem's

A superb Bloody Mary isn't just a cocktail; it's a perfectly executed chemistry experiment that you can't replicate at home, no matter how many times it's explained. As with martinis, the maker is critical. The best Bloody you've had in your life might not be there the next time if the same bartender isn't on duty. If God bestowed upon you Bloody ability, head to the Loop for Sunday brunch at Brandt's (6525 Delmar Boulevard; 314-727-3663), which features a make-your-own Bloody buffet with every conceivable ingredient, including okra. The Famous Bar (5213 Chippewa Street; 314-832-2211) is great for the standard issue, with always-crisp celery stalks and a beer shot on the side. (They also serve a mean Bloody Caesar if you dig clams.) No two people have the same criteria for a good Bloody. How spicy? Salt on the rim? Pickled garnishes or strictly fresh? As for us, we want more than the basic booze, tomato juice, Worcestershire, Tabasco, salt, pepper, lemon juice, celery and the proverbial blend of secret herbs and spices. We want imagination and, most of all, a spicy concoction, a burn that builds. We always find what we're looking for at Saleem's, where garlic, as the sign in the window says, is king. Adding one to three minced garlic cloves to a Bloody -- and they'll gladly add more if you like -- may sound odd, but it works. But garlic alone doesn't make this libation the town's best Bloody. Instead of Tabasco and Worcestershire, Saleem's makes its own harissa, a spicy North African paste that somehow helps make this drink as much a meal as a beverage -- even though there's no celery, and just an olive for garnish. Truly unique.

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