by Bree Collins
Nicole Flowers and Travis Reese are trying something new with Saint House, set to open August 15th at 256 E. Congress Street. Flowers and Reese love showcasing classic cocktails and serving good products at Scott & Co., but no one in town was doing rum. “It's the most diverse spirit in the world,” says Reese. “We wondered if we could do something unique with Caribbean-style food and pair it with drinks.”
They also wanted to create some diversity Downtown. “There's already a lot of American food,” says Reese, “and the Caribbean has a lot of unexplored North African and French dishes.” But Saint House will keep their food program approachable. There will be 4 ceviches, at least one veggie style, and a taco component. The Stew del Mar sounds mouthwatering with 5 different seafoods in a coconut curry broth. And everyone, absolutely everyone, is excited about the taro chips. “We were surprised at how good they are,” says Reese.
There will be some crazy dishes for the adventurous types, including one that features scotch bonnet peppers. “It can ruin a person if they're not expecting it,” says Reese.
The décor for Saint House was inspired by a visit to Miami, to which designer Chad Goebel added an upscale element. Grays, dark yellows, and dozens of lanterns — hanging or otherwise - give the restaurant a soft, intimate feel. The private dining room, done in light blue with dark blue accents, offers a breathtaking view of Congress Street.
Seating is extremely varied. Booths rest against a lantern-covered wall, there are low top and high top tables, and there are plenty of seats at the bar itself. “Hopefully it will be a different experience each time you come in,” says Laura Adams-Reese of Storyteller PR, who is handling Saint House. She eagerly pointed out the set of paintings by local artist Gonzalo Espinosa.
Then there's the long bar in the middle of the room. The shiny gray slate beckons you to sit down and order a drink. The bar was left open to highlight the cocktails and pull diners into the experience. “It's dinner and a show,” says Flowers.
Flowers admits that her specialty is the business side of things, while Reese works as restaurant manager. “Travis and I are equals at the top, but there's so much to do that we split up the work,” says Flowers. Big restaurant decisions, like the menu, are made together.
Since the focus is rum, there will be over 40 brands offered, which will appeal to a range of drinkers. Rum daiquiris will be a specialty here. “Daiquiri's are basically the perfect cocktail,” says bar curator Karl Goranowski. “They're balanced, not too sweet or sour.” At least, his aren't. Apparently most daiquiris we encounter are not true daiquiris.
Do you like vodka? Try a daiquiri with rum from Appleton Estate, which has a potent pineapple flavor. It's refreshing and light, the perfect poolside drink. American whiskey drinkers might like the Barbados aged rum, which has a little bit of toffee and vanilla from the barrel. It makes a richer-flavored daiquiri, and you can taste the barrel in there.
Rhum Agricole will have flavors that Margarita-drinkers find familiar, with something exciting added. It's like tequila-plus, without the oil, and grassy/vegetal notes on the back end. This daquiri is deliciously complex, and is one Goranowski would order for himself.
English Harbour is an oak-aged rum perfect for people who like cognac or bourbon. It smells of vanilla and a hint of leather, and has a sweeter taste without being cloying. “As Americans, we're told that all things vanilla are good,” says Goranowski. “Ice cream, bourbon...” And now daiquiris.
Once you get into the uniquely rum flavors, it's a wild ride. Banks is extremely vegetal, almost like a black olive. “It's a little bit down the rabbit hole,” Goranowski admits. It definitely has that fresh black olive note on the nose, and makes an incredibly complex and balanced daquiri. Those who like juniper will find satisfaction with this drink.
The sipping rums they offer are incredibly drinkable. Try Pusser's for a strange adventure that leaves you tasting raisins at the end. It's unforgettable.
A huge part of Saint House's mission is to educate the public about rum. The fun will be in trying daiquiris side by side to discover the nuances in flavor. Or let the bartenders know what you like, and they'll find a rum that suits you.