As fans of Ken Oringer & Jamie Bissonette’s Clio (RIP), Uni and Little Donkey, we’ve always had Coppa on our MUST DO list and on a gorgeous Halloween afternoon we finally made it down there for lunch.
We were surprised by Coppa’s cozy, neighborhood vibe – very few restaurants of its acclaim have this quality, and we happily plunked ourselves down at the bar.
Similar to NYC’s famed Dante, Coppa’s menu was heavy on the Spritzes, Negronis and Amari. Italian cocktails have usually been more herbal & bitter than our usual lane but we’ve been expanding lately.
The Coppa menu was extremely clever, and Lorri was happy to order the Rum-groni to extend her year-long journey down Negroni Road. I took on the Bully Ti’ Punch.
The Rum-groni was a fascinating mixture of distinctive Dos Maderas 5+5 rum (Jamaican & Guyanan rum aged in fino and PX sherry casks) and two vermouth-y fortified wines, Luxardo Bitter Bianco and Cocchi Americano. I find the Luxardo is a less distinctive bittering agent than Campari and less citrusy/floral than Aperol, so the overall effect was more “rum martini” than “rum negroni” … but that’s not a bad thing, especially with a sherried rum like the Dos Maderas.
The Bully Ti Punch featured Bully Amaro, one of the few American amari I’ve ever seen. The almond falernum (probably a house concoction) seemed pretty close to an orgeat. Technically speaking, the only thing in the drink that was in a true Ti’ Punch was the lime. Yet somehow the overall effect of all the components was intense, pungent and memorable , much like a Ti’ Punch – and I liked it almost as much as I admired it.
Ti’ Punch Mini-Rant: The Ti’ Punch (short for “Petite Punch”) has no tea and is not a punch, so don’t be like me and stare stupidly at at your non-chai, non-magenta drink the first time it’s presented to you. It’s a term for the very simple traditional drink of Martinique: funky agricole rhum, true cane sugar syrup and a special cut of fresh lime (basically a cutting off a quarter of a lime) often presented to the drinker as separate components so you can DIY it to your liking. It’s pungent, fresh and wonderful when done right (which is almost never).
Something weirdly cool was happening here – two cocktails back to back that totally perverted their origins and got away with it ….
After having a depressing run of lunchtime bartenders who were clearly from the B-team (or the C-Team .. or the I’m-not-really-a-bartender-I-just-got-stuck-pretending-to-be-one-during-this-shitty-lunch-shift Team) around Boston lately, it was fantastic to have Devon, cheerful and effortlessly competent and more than equal to the task when I threw out my usual not-so-innocent-bartender’s challenge:
“What the hell is that bottle of Rosé Gin from Wire Works? Is there anything you like to make with that?”
Devon knocked out something between a martini and a Manhattan, featuring the rosé gin, Cardamaro amaro (amaro made with … well, duh …) and vermouth. I dubbed it the Rosé-maro Card-tini because I’m a master of stunningly awful cocktail names, but trust me it tasted much better than its name, floral and spiced yet easy drinking.
Lorri wasn’t about to do the cliché Aperol Spritz (The Official Over-Ordered Hey Look I’m A Sophisticated Drinker Drink of 2018) but was wisely steered away from the Italicus Spritz (“Significantly sweeter than Aperol”) and got the Alessio Spritz instead, less bitter and slightly sweeter than Aperol. It slightness would make it a great spritz for brunch.
Obligatory Fantastic Food Comment: Have to mention the food and egregiously add two food porn photos. We’d eat here again even if they had no cocktails. The Arancini redeemed all of the crappy glorified cheeseballs that we’ve had, perfectly fried, luscious sauce, piquant cheese. And the pizza … we may be even worse pizza snobs than cocktail & whiskey snobs, having eaten at the world’s most historic pizza joints in Naples Italy – the birthplace of pizza. We’ve drooled over the super-authentic Neapolitan ovens in Mast’ and Pastorale, we love what Picco is doing nearby, we’ve puzzled over the appeal of Reginas and Santarpios, we’ve admired Area Four and Max and Leo’s … but it’s eminently possible that the very best pizza in Boston is right in this little corner restaurant. Devastatingly perfect mix of crunchy and chewy crust (that actually tastes good on its own), superb toppings and sauce, delicate cheese, it’s just wonderful. Now, Coppa’s pizza does lack the traditional soupy middle (which many NYC meccas like Motorino prides themselves on) but call us heretics, we LIKE a properly cooked middle!
Just look at this stuff:
All in all, a great experience … one we can’t wait to repeat …
And we didn’t, coming back the NEXT week for DAY TWO !
The cocktail menu had slightly changed:
I went back to my Rosé-maro Card-tini, now on the menu but BORINGLY NAMED Play Your Cards Right (a cocktail name that a sane person might actually order).
Lorri chatted up our new bartender Aaron (who again defied the lunchtime odds by being another easygoing, deeply knowledgeable bartender – is Coppa secretly kidnapping superior lunchtime bartenders across the city?) and got a Mezcal concoction with Limoncello and Italicus. One would think that smoky agave spirit might not play well with the sweet citrusy limoncello and the subtle fortified wine … no, actually, you WOULD expect it to play well and it did. It’s a minor miracle that Lorri liked it, considering that we developed a vicious hatred of the stuff in Italy.
The inventiveness of Coppa’s bartenders was impressive and I was dying to try one of their cocktail with lambrusco (a very brightly acidic Italian wine making a comeback from the days when it was basically mildly alcoholic Kool Aid) so I asked for the Shawmut Sour but with “any bourbon except for the Rock and Rye”, because Rock and Rye may be the single worst whiskey I’ve ever had in my life.
Aaron said “Sorry, I can’t do that because Rock and Rye is the only bourbon we have …”, at which point I was ready to demand the name of their liquor buyer and have him/her do the Whiskey Walk of Shame (like Cersei in the Game of Thrones except that people throw Rock and Rye at you instead of just rocks) until Aaron concluded with ” … because we have a cordials license”.
“Cordials License” is the mixology equivalent of being told to fight Bruce Lee with your shoelaces tied together, mattresses duct taped around your hands, and a pillowcase over your head.
Note: Bruce Lee is assumed to still be alive in this scenario. Don’t be a smart ass.
You COULD win, but it ain’t easy because you can only use liquors with 2.5% sugar content by weight or more. Read more about it in a previous post.
This is the point in the horror movie where you whip your head around and you realize your buddies John, Paul, George and Ringo have actually been Pat Boone, Boxcar Willie, Milli AND Vanilli all along. How could you not have known after seeing all of the bottles on the shelf?
Well, three reasons:
- As Aaron explained, an Italian bar can get away with it as fortified wines and amari (super common in Italian cocktails) are permissible under a cordials license
- Coppa chooses its sweet liquors carefully. No cotton candy vodka or caramel raisin fudge whiskey on their shelves (the latter is not a real thing … the former SADLY IS)
- Their bartenders have been working with this stuff for a decade now and they are goddamn wizards at it.
It’s a clear case of limitations spurring creativity, and it’s truly impressive. No, you won’t get the classic you’re looking for and it’s going to be tough to get something like a crisp refreshing sour but you WILL get cocktails unlike anything you’ve had before and they will be well thought out and battle tested.
Armed with more knowledge and appreciation, Lorri and I both went for bartender’s choices again. I got a Chamomile Negroni with Alessio Bianco and lemon bitters, which was overpoweringly fragrant to the nose but somehow pleasant to the taste. Lorri got a Rye whiskey with Italicus and sweet vermouth which resulted in something akin to a pleasantly bright Manhattan, complex but subtle – I preferred it to the booziness of a standard Manhattan.
And so went our second visit at Coppa, an eye opening experience and a real education.
And YES we got TWO pizzas this time, and NO, you can’t have any.