By day, we're just like most working couples: I'm the PR director at Tervis, and my husband, Robert, specializes in residential real estate with Coldwell Banker in downtown Sarasota.By night, we call ourselves the Cocktail Couple. Although neither of us claim to be professional bartenders or aficionados of any kind, we like to travel, expand our taste buds and relish in a stiff martini.
We've been blogging for several months, but we knew we wanted our first interview to be with Christian Hershman, of State Street Eating House. Not only did he allow us to disrupt lunch hour to take our promotional photo, he's also been a reliable source of drink recommendations. He also filled us in on his recent expansion, which includes a brand new swanky lounge and packaged-goods store.
We recently sat down with him to talk drinks, food and find out what he keeps in his flask:
After interviewing Hershman, it would be just as easy to see the prominent restaurateur, chef and mixologist as a historian or a professor. To say he's passionate about the history of food and drink is an understatement. And as the owner of more than 100 bow ties, he just needs a corduroy jacket with patches on the elbows to complete the look. Maybe a pipe.He started in the kitchen when he was 19, at the former Sarasota restaurant, Ally Cat Café. Hershman said he's always had a knack for food. He claims it's because he's very visual with, and not just in terms of presentation.
“I can look at ingredients and, in my mind’s eye, see the result,” he says.
He doesn’t even have to taste as he goes along. All his training was on the job, and he credits many for their guidance.
With 77 gins available at State Street, Hershman's answer to the question, "What's in your flask?" didn't come as a surprise. If there's a gin that's imported into Florida, he has it. So yes, it would be gin in his flask. And he does have his favorites.
“They change with my mood,” he says. “But if I had to pick my top three right now, they would be Beefeater, Bombay Dry and St. Augustine.”
Part of the Hershman's passion for gin is because of its history. The self-proclaimed history geek is like a walking Wikipedia when it comes to drink trivia, and he considers each bottle to be like a time machine. He understands junipers and loves how he can dig into the past, but at the end of the day, he says he likes gin for the taste; it’s what he drank with his buddies when he first discovered liquor (we'll leave out his age at the time).
“I view our past as a more thoughtful time,” he says. “So when I started putting the bar menu together, I knew I wanted to introduce the classic cocktails back into the market.”
His intention is to capture some of the spirit of the past, because he believes things are more complicated now; he wants to bring back the simple pleasures.
“And as a cook, I knew I didn’t want to serve sour mix," he says. "It was a simple decision. We weren’t going to serve crappy mixers when we are baking fresh bread, making soups, cutting fish and meat and making everything else to order.”
A lot of the cocktails he serves are directly out of Jerry Thomas’ "Bartender's Guide,” from 1862. Cocktails that have been gone for a while will be reintroduced.
“It’s an ode to the past,” he says.
He’s also one of the few sake-certified specialists in the state, but that’s a whole ‘nother story!
Be sure to stop by his place, where he recently expanded. You can see the showcase of all his gins, no to mention the bourbon, rye, vodka, etc. They can not only make you an amazing craft cocktail, but now, thanks to the expansion's packaged-goods store, they can also sell you a bottle (or two!).
“The era of the cocktail is back,” he says. “Cocktails aren't going away. They're here to stay.”
And that makes us very happy.
State Street Eating House: 1522 State St. / 951-1533
Photos by Jaysen Ward