Brandon Peck, bartender of Church Hill's acclaimed restaurant, The Roosevelt, has been working in food service around Richmond for the past decade. As we talk food pairings, dry versus dirty martinis, and what it means to educate your bar patrons, there is no denying Peck absolutely loves what he does behind the bar. Stop by The Roosevelt for one of Brandon's beautifully constructed drinks,or give them a try at home - two brand-new Ruby Red Grapefruit recipes are featured below the interview. Cheers!
Interview: Brandon Peck
What has the evolution of the Church Hill bar and restaurant scene been like in recent years? How does it feel to be a part of it?
It's been a really interesting experience. When the Roosevelt opened nearly 5 years ago, nobody involved really knew what we were getting into. I dropped a bar shift at Ipanema Cafe to wait tables a few days a week and within 6 months a couple bar shifts had opened up and I came on full time. In the last 5 years we've seen the neighborhood transform.
I live up here in the Hill and these days I need more and more of an excuse to leave because there are so many options for food, drink and entertainment. I'm proud to have been a small part of making this neighborhood a destination for Richmond and beyond.
How is the bar at The Roosevelt unique?
We don't necessarily follow the seasonal approach when it comes to updating our cocktail menu. Our list is constantly changing, much the same as our food menu does, so when, for instance, blood oranges go out of season, whatever drink is using it, either disappears or becomes something else. There's definitely a little southern charm on our list, but we don't go overboard with any real theme. We base a lot of our drinks on classics, but sometimes our most popular ones are the odd little creations that weren't born of any existing cocktails.
What is your favorite part about being a bartender?
It's my favorite job I've ever had. I love the social aspect of being behind the bar. It's different from waiting tables in that your bar guests and you are locked in for the duration of their experience. You're the spectacle, the performer, the one doing all the heavy lifting, and if you do your job well, they will come back to see you. I love watching groups of people interact with others at the bar and become friends with each other.
I really love talking to guests about what we have and what we do behind the bar, as well. I spend a good deal of my free time reading, trying to further my knowledge of what we have at our disposal and the history and science behind it. I love being able to answer people's questions and to share some of that information with them because I feel like it adds enjoyment to what you're drinking if you understand the components. It's not just like "This tastes good" anymore, you can really start to pick apart the flavors and qualities of what is in front of you, and I really believe that can enhance your experience.
Which cocktail do you hope people ask for?
A delicious gin martini. Last year I went on a journey to understand, and fully appreciate this most classic cocktail and in a very short time, I fell deeply and madly in love with it. I love gently guiding guests from the world of the dirty martini, to the clean, crisp and refreshing dry martini, up with a twist.
What is your guilty pleasure cocktail?
Blended margaritas. I know I shouldn't do it, but I can't stop myself.
How does the bar influence the food, and vice versa?
At the Roosevelt, it's usually the food that influences the drink. We share a pantry, and thus we share ingredients from time to time. We've definitely taken a few nods from the kitchen as far as how we go about preparing some of our cordials and syrups.
Do you have a pro-tip for new or home bartenders?
Don't get overwhelmed with how much is out there. Drink as many different things as you can, and really think about what you are experiencing. Find a couple cocktails you love, and learn how to make them, and have opinions on what makes them better. And finally, read as much as you can and just try to soak up anything you come across.
What’s the question you get most often while bartending?
"You guys got any Pappy?" (We do.)
What’s the best food + cocktail pairing at The Roosevelt?
Lately, I've been loving pairing cocktails with dessert. My current favorites are the Booker's Manhattan with our chocolate pudding, or an Irish coffee with the peanut butter pie.
- 1 1/2 oz. Ruby Red Grapefruit Belle Isle Moonshine
- 1 oz. Clément Rhum Blanc Agricole
- 1/2 oz. Yellow Chartreuse
- 6 drops of Bittermen's Burlesque Bitters
Add all ingredients to a mixing glass and stir until ice cold. Strain into a chilled coupe, garnish with an expressed lemon peel and serve.
Recipe courtesy of Brandon Peck
- 1 1/2 oz. Belle Isle Ruby Red Grapefruit Moonshine
- 1/2 oz. Licor 43 liqueur
3/4 oz. pomelo cordial (recipe below)
- 1/2 oz. lime juice
- 1 egg. white
- 4-6 drops of Scrappy's lavender bitter for garnish
Add all ingredients except the bitters to a shaker and shake without ice to emulsify the egg white. Add ice and shake once more, then fine strain into a chilled coupe to remove all solids. Drop bitters onto the surface of the drink and serve.
Pomelo Cordial: Cut 2-4 pomelos into eighths and juice (*Note: pomelos have a very large pith, and thus don't yield as much juice as you might expect). Strain solids from the juice until you have 1 cup of juice. Add 1/2 cup of superfine sugar and stir until sugar has completely dissolved.
Photography by Alexander Kreher.