At first glance, the bar inside Jackson’s Restaurant in Commack appears solidly beer-centric. Beer taps reach down from the ceiling like stalactites, and a chalkboard lists over a dozen craft brews on tap.
The scene masks the fact that some pretty serious cocktails can be had here, too. At the bottom of the beer list, almost like a footnote, is the drink of the day: hibiscus- and coriander-infused gin with passion fruit, lemon, St-Germain, and sparkling wine. It came from the imagination of head bartender Tracy Johanna, who is turning out drinks with surprising layers of flavor — including another cocktail, the Mango Express, which won third place at the NY Craft Cocktail Expo Long Island in early May.
“I try to think about drinks the way a chef might think about food,” said Johanna, a St. Louis native who has tended bar for 15 years, three of those at Jackson’s. “It’s not all about sweet on sweet on sweet.”
Which means, sometimes it’s about savory — an approach embodied in the Mango Express, which Johanna came up with days before the cocktail competition, infusing the requisite blanco tequila with mango and jalapeño that she roasted beforehand to extract maximum flavor in a minimum amount of time.
To make the drink, Johanna lines the rim of a chilled coupe glass with salt and paprika, then drops a sprig of cilantro in the bottom. She holds the fiery tip of a brûlée torch to a skewer of mango and sliced jalapeño (Johanna has a pastry background), caramelizing the edges of the fruit and slightly blackening the pepper. This, she carefully balances across the rim of the glass.
Ice, tequila, mango nectar, smoked honey and fresh-squeezed lime go into a Boston shaker, which Johanna quakes before straining the liquid into the coupe and sliding it across the bar.
The final drink is golden yellow, and the prickle of the salt rim is followed by a wave of tropical fruit and smoldering spice. It’s a deeply savory and delicious drink — like a late Arizona afternoon channeled to Jericho Turnpike. $12.