A veggie superfood with multiple benefits and a strong following among health food aficionados, kale is also branching out behind the bar. The green leafy vegetable—better known for its trendy reputation as an ingredient in salads and detox juices—is making its way into a variety of cocktail applications, from green Margaritas to Martinis, providing earthy and bitter flavors with a vitamin-packed punch. Some bartenders are working with kale juice, while others are muddling fresh kale, grilling it, or infusing it into syrups.
At American Kitchen Bar & Grill in the Disney Springs area of Lake Buena Vista, Florida, bartenders grow fresh kale in the venue’s living garden, a space positioned in the middle of the restaurant that includes a variety of vegetables, fruits, and herbs. Bartender Maria Massino prefers to work with fresh kale leaves for her Klassic Kale ($12), a drink made with Tito’s Handmade vodka; muddled kale, lime, and watermelon; house-made honey-ginger syrup; and Sprite.
“Kale carries powerful antioxidants and it’s a great source of Vitamin C,” Massino notes. “It lends an earthy taste to the drink, as well as some bitterness, which is why it’s best to combine it with fruits or syrups that will balance those flavors with sweetness or spice.” So far, response to the cocktail has been positive, even if there are a few skeptics. “Our guests are surprised by how great the drink tastes,” Massino says.
Her bartender colleague Anthony Lagatta also created a kale cocktail for American Kitchen Bar & Grill. His drink, the Krispy Kaletini ($12), is made with St. Augustine New World gin, St-Germain elderflower liqueur, Fever-Tree ginger beer, kale-infused simple syrup, and lemon juice, garnished with a piece of fried kale. “The kale adds a fresh, bitter note that plays nicely off the other sweet and herbal components,” Lagatta says. “Guests are immediately intrigued by such an unexpected ingredient, and many try the cocktail, despite having no idea what to expect from such a novel flavor profile.”
New York City cocktail bar The Wayland offers The Garden Variety Margarita ($14), made with Pueblo Viejo Blanco Tequila; fresh kale, ginger, and lime juices; and agave nectar, served in a glass rimmed with smoked chili salt. The drink has been the venue’s most popular cocktail since it opened eight years ago in Manhattan’s East Village neighborhood.
“It’s labor-intensive to prepare the kale juice and it takes a lot of care to balance it in a drink so that it won’t overpower the other ingredients, but it’s worth it,” says The Wayland owner and general manager Brian Hawthorne. “Kale adds an earthy, savory flavor, a pungent aroma, and a vivid green color—as well as lots of vitamins.”
Kaleo Medeiros, the bar manager at Honey Salt in Las Vegas, makes a kale-based juice he calls Green Goodness. The concoction contains kale, lemon, celery, ginger, cucumber, and Granny Smith apples; Medeiros mixes it into the venue’s popular brunch cocktail The Green Tox ($13), which also contains Tito’s Handmade vodka, agave syrup, and lemon juice.
“The Green Tox is one of our top-sellers during brunch,” Medeiros says. “Kale has protein, fiber, vitamins, and omega-3. The Green Goodness juice is a healthy mixer option for people who want to drink and stay fit. Kale has become a trendy ingredient in bars and is popping up on menus all over Las Vegas.”