Behind the Stick with Meaghan Leonard

Midnight Manhattan:

2 oz Canadian Rye (referencing Leonard’s French-Canadian background) Pike Creek (finished in port cask—Whistle Pig works, too)

1 oz Averna (an Italian amaro, bitter but so lovely)

Dash Cardamom bitters, dash plum bitters (2 dashes Angostura will suffice instead)

Welcome back behind the stick. This month I chatted with Meaghan Leonard, currently a bartender at Restaurant Orsay. Leonard is originally from Greensboro, North Carolina and has been in Jacksonville since 2007. She is currently working on a degree in Fine Arts from UNF. Leonard started as a math major before shifting her focus towards photography, and says that she finds craft bartending to be a balance between math and the arts. In the industry for eight years, Leonard continues to hone her craft at Orsay. For those unfamiliar, Orsay is a French-inspired and Southern-bred restaurant in the Avondale neighborhood. Leonard says, “We’re French, but shrimp and grits are also cool.”

IMG_0837For new guests, Leonard recommends the Hey Jealousy, a clever take on the gin blossom cocktail. The Hey Jealousy cocktail has been on the Orsay menu for eight years, and for good reason. It’s still my personal favorite thing to order if I’m looking for a familiar flavor that packs a punch. The base is a cucumber-infused gin with lemon juice, St. Germain, and Aperol with a splash of Cava. It’s tart, refreshing, and boozy.

Leonard is attending Tales of the Cocktail in New Orleans the week of July 18th. Tales is a yearly “part conference, part awards, part ridiculous party—it’s a bunch of the world’s best bartenders together, which usually means one thing”, Leonard laughs. It’s both a learning experience and an extravagant free-for-all. Leonard is particularly looking forward to maybe meeting Eryn Reece formerly from Death & Co., one of the foremost craft cocktail bars in New York (highly recommended!). She’s especially interested in hearing about the experience of being a woman in a generally male-dominated bar scene.

For our home bartenders, Leonard has come up with the Midnight Manhattan, a smooth and not-so-sweet cocktail. “Something that hits, but doesn’t linger,” she says of this bitter delight. “The Midnight Manhattan is a perfect night cap”, says, Leonard. It features Canadian Rye and Averna amaro, an industry favorite.

Don’t be intimidated if you haven’t been to Orsay before. Leonard often asks first-time guests, “What’s your spirit of choice? Have you had Fernet before? I’m not trying to take you to a place you haven’t been, but i’ll get as weird as I can in your palate realm.” Leonard tells me that her new favorite is the Mint Condition. It’s a take on a Mojito/Caipirinha. “Anyone that comes to sit at the bar shouldn’t feel like they’re in a pretentious atmosphere. You don’t have to drink esoteric shit to be cool.” She emphasizes the importance of the seasonal influences and in-house prep that happens at Restaurant Orsay. “I like to keep it fresh when making drinks at home or ordering them out. When possible, use fresh juices, it makes such a difference.”

Check out Orsay for happy hour, dinner, or weekend brunch, and join me next month as I peruse the offerings of another local bartender.

About Hadley Splane-Borja