Critiques, Cravings and Conundrums From the Madison Food and Dining Scene
Mar 10, 2014
12:16 PM
Small Dishes

The Grasshopper, a Supper Club Staple, Has New Orleans Roots

PHOTO BY DAN CURD

Tujague's, in New Orleans, is the birthplace of the Grasshopper cocktail.

I’ve always associated the Grasshopper—I’m referring to the after-dinner drink—with supper clubs and Wisconsin. Living here in the late '50s, my mother inevitably ordered one of these creamy, green drinks for dessert while I was forced to settle for green mint ice cream. I vaguely remember a restaurant in Middleton famous for its Grasshopper made with ice cream—an innovation at the time that would quickly spread. Each fall, when I make my annual jaunt with friends to Ishnala to observe its closing for the season, the evening always concludes with a Grasshopper. However, I would never consider ordering one beyond the borders of Dairyland.

Recently learning that the concoction actually originated in New Orleans left me dumbfounded. An argument can be made that the cocktail itself was born there. The Big Easy is synonymous with a long list of libations, including the Sazerac, Ramos Gin Fizz, Ojen and Hurricane. But the Grasshopper?

How I stumbled upon this revelation was in the bar of the city’s second oldest restaurant, Tujague’s. I hadn’t been there in years and what brought me there was a story. I had followed in the local media that it was in danger of being turned into yet another T-shirt shop. I’m happy to report that this story has a happy ending, and Tujague’s is very much alive and well looking forward to its next 158 years.

I’d forgotten what a great place it was, made all the much better by how little it had changed. The tradition of plates of free red beans and rice served at the bar on Mondays continues. The gilt mirror brought over from Paris still hangs above the old, stand-up cypress bar. On the nicotine-patinaed walls along with memorabilia from ages past hovers the portrait of the original owner, Philip Guichet.  

It was Philip’s son, Philip Jr., an accomplished mixologist, who entered a cocktail contest held in New York, amazingly enough, in 1928—before the end of Prohibition! The judge, Walter Winchell, picked Philip’s creation, the Grasshopper, as the winning entry. Supposedly, the original recipe was one part green crème de menthe, one part white crème de cacao and one part cream shaken with ice. Its popularity peeked nationally in the 1950s and '60s. Today, the Grasshopper, most often made with ice cream, is still much beloved by many in Wisconsin.

What better way to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day than to go out and have a Grasshopper? Be sure to toast New Orleans, Tujague’s and Phil Guichet, Jr.!

Ishnala. A great supper club not only has good food but atmosphere and history as well. That’s what brings me back to Ishnala. A Grasshopper here is huge, and served in a hurricane glass, perhaps an unintended but appropriate nod to its New Orleans’ roots.

Kavanaugh’s Esquire Club. Arguably Madison oldest restaurant, the Kavanaugh family has operated this business at the same location since 1947. Originally a tavern that grew into a supper club, it has always been famous all over town for its Grasshopper.

Nick’s. It’s not surprising that this State Street landmark that prides itself on being old fashioned would make an exemplary Grasshopper. Here, it’s really more of an ice cream shake than a cocktail.

Smoky’s Club. Another of our city’s oldest eateries, just like at Tujague’s, little changes here. It’s just about as well known for its ice cream Grasshopper as it is for its steaks.

RECIPE: Grasshopper Pie

It was probably inevitable that this minty dessert drink would make a leap from glass to plate. Grasshopper pie is especially popular in the South and on St. Patrick’s Day.

INGREDIENTS

9-inch crumb crust made from chocolate wafers
3 1/2 cups heavy cream, chilled
1 cup loosely packed mint leaves
3 tbsp green crème de menthe
1 envelope unflavored gelatin
5 large egg yolks
1/4 cup + 2 tbsp granulated sugar

Garnish:

Whipped cream
12-oz bar of dark chocolate, chilled

DIRECTIONS

Bring 1 1/2 cups cream and the mint just to a boil in a small saucepan. Remove from heat and cover. Let steep for 15 minutes. Strain the mixture through a fine sieve into a glass bowl, discard the mint, and set aside. Beat 1 cup of the remaining cream with an electric mixer until it forms firm peaks. Cover the whipped cream and refrigerate.

Put the crème de menthe in the top a double boiler and sprinkle with the gelatin. Let stand 5 minutes to soften. Add the steeped cream mixture to the softened gelatin, whisking until well combined. Bring water in the bottom of the double boiler to the simmer. Meanwhile, beat together the egg yolks and 1/4 cup sugar in a medium-size mixing bowl until well combined; then set aside.

Set the top of the double boiler over the simmering water and cook, whisking constantly, until the gelatin is dissolved and mixture is hot—about 1 minute. Remove the top of the double boiler and slowly whisk the hot mixture into the beaten egg yolks. Return the mixture to the top of the double boiler and again set it over the simmering water. Cook, stirring constantly, until the custard thickens slightly and reaches 150 degrees on an instant-reading thermometer.

Remove the top of the double boiler and set it in a large pan of ice and water. Whisk the cooked custard until it thickens and resembles pudding. Remove the top of the double boiler from the ice-water bath and stir in about one-third of the chilled whipped cream. Then, gently fold it into the remaining whipped cream.

Spoon the mixture into pie crust and smooth the top with a rubber spatula. Cover the surface with plastic wrap. Refrigerate until set—about 1 hour. (The pie can be made a day ahead of time.)

Right before serving, beat the remaining 1 cup of cream with 2 tbsp of sugar until it forms soft peaks. Cut the pie into wedges and top each with a dollop of whipped cream. Grate a little chocolate over each serving.

Makes 1 9-inch pie.

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About This Blog

Dan CurdI found my interest in writing by accident. My training and first job was as a graphic designer. Unemployed, the only employment I could find in advertising at that time was as a copywriter. Somehow, I convinced Richard Newman & Associates to hire me. Later I learned they were desperate. Madison has been my home off and on since 1957 (nonstop for the past 31 years). I write about food, which I love. – Dan Curd

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