Besides the great Bloody Mary and heroic Michelada, brunch cocktails often take the form of a missed opportunity. Sometimes they try to quell a nasty hangover; other times they intend to fancify a meal. But what happens on those occasions when you’re neither feeling like a bag of trash, nor at your friend’s sister’s bat mitzvah luncheon? What happens, say, when you are just bored and possibly a little constipated? Which is to say: American?
In the prenatal stage of Cafe Mutton, the restaurant I opened in Hudson, NY, in 2021, I had already put together a small food menu that felt right—dishes like pâté sandwiches, scrapple, and tortilla española. And I had already chosen the coffee, tea, wine, and beer. It was time to hammer down some cocktails.
Before I could begin to consider which brunch drinks might complement our food, my mind shrieked: No mimosas! As my body recoiled at the thought of orange juice ruining sparkling wine, I giggled to myself about the insipid Screw Driver, lord help us, another orange abomination. And then, from the depraved depths of my being, came a quiet but clear whisper: Poo Driver.
I knew what I had to do.
Prioritizing a joke over all sensible things is not a new theme in my life. I am a person who will sacrifice a lot to execute a prank as long as I have the right resources. At another restaurant, I once snuck a haunted clown into the passenger seat of one of our delivery driver’s trucks while he was bringing in towels and aprons. (The man drove away before noticing it, but luckily, he did not crash.)
Poop humor is new to my repertoire. Years ago, I didn’t appreciate this base genre, but I’ve learned to value it in the same way I’ve learned to value sandwiches, sausages, and sonnets: as a strict but reliable form to snugly house the duende. The frame of the thing is not the point; it’s how the wrangling serves to amplify the soul inside.
To earn its keep on the menu, the Poo Driver had to be a banger. Prune juice—the universal sign of constipation—would be the heart of the drink. I wasn’t afraid, because prune juice is fortunately (though secretly) delicious. Fernet Branca, a bitter Italian liqueur, came on the scene for its biting freshness and digestive qualities; lemon for its brightness. And, of course, vodka, to make it count. Plus, a teeny pinch of salt just to wake it all up.
I loved the drink when it finally gasped to life. It was not just funny—it was legit. Not so many people were interested in trying it, but it gained a cult following anyway. Rita Sodi, the illustrious chef and owner of I Sodi, drinks one every time she visits, and if that’s not strong medicine for the old fragile ego, I don’t know what is.
Some might be intimidated by the prospect of buying an entire bottle of prune juice. As one guest suggested, the Poo Driver is too bold to drink more than three times per week (I thought that simultaneously generous and cowardly). But as luck would have it, prune juice has a great shelf life. So while there are other outlets for extra prune juice—like using a little in a pork braise or substituting for apple cider in a loaf cake—you can certainly go ahead and chip away at your bottle of laxative god-nectar Poo Driver by Poo Driver.
Go on, try it:
Cafe Mutton is one of BA’s 10 Best New Restaurants of 2022. Check out the rest of the list here.