Drinking at brunch is a level of decadence I generally cannot afford. As someone who only recently learned to appreciate a good Bloody Mary — and this only after sampling at least a dozen that my girlfriend has ordered — buying a mimosa has usually felt like a waste of money, an unnecessary flourish meant more to fit in or show off than anything else.
I don’t know about you, but one mimosa doesn’t do much to me, and for their relative affordability and limited preparation, I’m apt to pass when the opportunity arises. Unless it’s at home, maybe with some strawberries thrown in that I picked at a patch nearby, or somewhere like Fisher’s Grill where they’re cheap enough to knock back a trio and actually feel it.
At most Triad restaurants, the brunch selection ends with these two — I’m not one to be lured by a bellini, either. There’s a Bloody Mary bar on Sundays at Pintxos Pour House in Winston-Salem, but for the most part there’s little excitement on the local brunch booze scene.
1618 Downtown is an exception.
The Greensboro restaurant is not the only place in the Gate City with interesting and enjoyable brunch cocktails beyond the basics, though you wouldn’t know from searching a dozen restaurant websites as I did looking for a listing. Dame’s Chicken & Waffles serves up an assortment of mimosa varieties that are quite good, for example. But nowhere that I’ve found in Greensboro does it like 1618’s center city shop.
The brunch cocktail list at 1618 Downtown — visible online (yay!) — is reasonably priced, diverse, inventive and delicious. There Will Be Bloody comes with arbol chili Bloody Mary mix and a piece of okra, watermelon rind and a chunk of beet; it’s my favorite that I’ve tried, though remember this isn’t my drink of choice. I ordered the restaurant’s spin on a mimosa; it features cava, Spanish sparkling wine also found at Marshall Free House among others, and fresh-squeezed OJ, but more importantly 1618 adds ginger shrub. It’s a fantastic pairing, and will make you wonder why you ever bothered with a boring, traditional mimosa before.
Believe it or not, this classy joint has a slushie machine, which I’m choosing to read as a retort to plans for a Wet Willie’s frozen daiquiri bar nearby. Try the seasonal “adult” slushie — the sample a bartender offered me was quite good.
There are three more cocktails on the brunch menu, including another mimosa variation with rosé, one with Earl Grey-infused Beefeater gin along with lemon, honey and an Irish coffee. Things get more interesting though with the “zero proof” and “half proof” sections of the drink menu, where you can find a non-alcoholic “Timothy Collins” or a seasonal shrub. Planning to drive home, or drink here all day? Go for the mildly alcoholic Bittersweet Breakfast with Cynar Italian liqueur and Cappelletti — an aperitif similar to Campari — along with cinnamon syrup and egg. Maybe the Saxapahaw Spritz with scuppernong wine seasonal infusion, fresh fruit and soda water is more your speed on a Saturday morning, or you can keep it simpler with a Bells Oarsman beer combined with grapefruit juice.
The mock drinks are just $4 while the half proofs run $2 more and the regulars only $8 — less than most around here, though there are certainly cheaper Bloodys and mimosas to be found.
But I’d argue if you’re going to indulge, you might as well do it right, and the food here is first rate, too.
Visit 1618 Downtown at 312 S. Elm Street (GSO) for brunch on Saturdays only, or see 1618downtown.com for more info. You won’t have to wait for a table.
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