Shrubs may be the hottest trend in cocktails. These syrups that mix fruit, sugar and vinegar have landed on menus at restaurants like Coltivare, Underbelly and Holley's. Equally at home in alcoholic and not alcoholic cocktails (they're particularly delicious with Topo Chico), shrubs have an appealing sweet and sour tang that's curiously addictive.
Sarah Troxell made the transition from a line cook at a number of Houston restaurants to a front-of-house position at the popular neighborhood restaurant Paulie's. Although she's no longer cooking for a living, drinking shrubs began to arouse her culinary curiosity.
"I’ve had cocktails made with shrubs at different places, because I’m a chef I thought, oh, I could make this," Troxell tells CultureMap. "I just wanted to explore my creativity and try new flavors. A lot of places are doing savory shrubs that I wanted to work on."
She began sharing her experiments with friends and coworkers, who encouraged her to add them to the menu at Paulie's. Once diners responded favorably to the new "Italian sodas" made with Troxell's syrups and Topo Chico mineral water, she launched a business named Sarah's Shrubs to meet the emerging demand. Now she's looking to market her shrubs directly to diners as well as bars, restaurant and coffee shops.
For berry fruits, Troxell uses a cold press method that involves letting the fruit soak in sugar for a few days to form a syrup. "Then you strain the fruit out and season with vinegar to taste. It’s a refreshing mix of sweet and sour," she says.
Currently, Paulie's offers three of Troxell's syrups: lemon-vanilla, pineapple and orange, but she's already contemplating fall flavors that incorporate sweet potato and carrot. Winter will see new citrus flavors.
Judging by the favorable response from CultureMap's staff to an informal tasting of a half dozen of Troxell's syrups (lemon-blueberry was a standout), Sarah's Shrubs looks like a hit. Pretty soon, Houstonians will no longer associate the word "shrubbery" with the Knights Who Say Ni.