Ammo Cafe on Highland has been open for over 15 years, a discreet restaurant on Highland where locals and celebrities alike enjoy the reasonably priced quality Italian food in an unpretentious and comfortable ambiance. Earlier this winter, the restaurant decided to raise its cocktail program to the level of its dining room menu by bringing on Jason Robey to consult on their cocktail list.
Robey, who gained notice in Los Angeles for reinventing the cocktail program at Michael's Restaurant in Santa Monica, has created a tasty list that draws on the local produce available at the farmer's markets, which both reflects his style and is a good match for the Ammo culinary philosophy. Running the bar program is Laila Ayad, who executes Robey's list well and is excellent at the art of hospitality. I am a fan of Robey's cocktails so was intrigued to see what was in store for me when I was invited to try the new menu.
The Johnny Green Spot (above) made with Tierra's anejo tequila, green chartreuse, meyer lemon juice, grapefruit juice, jalapeno and Thai basil was among the best cocktails I have had anywhere in the past year. This is a destination worthy drink as the spicyness of the pepper and the tartness of the juices partnered with the herbal chartreuse and the kick of the tequila to just produce a beautiful combination. Six ingredients can be the sign of too much going on in a cocktail, but I wouldn't lose any of them in this beauty.
Beer cocktails are having a moment right now, and the Belgian Sunrise deserves its place among the contenders as it uses not one but two brews in this cocktail. Both Allagash White Ale and Lindemans Lambic Framboise mixed with Frambeau Liquor. It is well constructed and the fruit in the beer mixed with the liquor gave it a sweet edge, which complemented the bubbles from the beer.
Alas even the Willet 5 Year Rye could not salvage the Citrus Fashioned (below) which also included lemon, orange and tangerine zest, maraschino jus and bitters. I'd stick with a classic Old Fashioned any day over this concoction which did no favors to its similarly named relation as it was a watery mess.
Another favorite, this time of the stirred variety, is the Dominicano, which is made with Citadelle gin and both Dolin Blanc and Rouge vermouths, Aperol and orange bitters. Crisp and to the point, it was fun to see the incorporation of two Dolins in one cocktail.
The final cocktail on the list is the Sage Martini with Hendrick's Gin, lemon juice, lime juice and sage.
Fortunately there are bar bites to munch on that are great partners for the beverages. The standouts for me were:
French breakfast radishes with Straus butter and sea salt ($4). Sometimes simple ingredients with no fuss at all can be better than anything else and these radishes were simply crunchy and fresh. A little butter and salt; I could have eaten the whole bunch.
Baked Penne with aged white cheddar, fresh thyme and breadcrumbs ($8) is not to be missed. My companions and I were battling for each forkful. This puts what passes for mac and cheese in most restaurants in LA to shame.
Bar Manager Laila sent us into the night with some chocolate chip cookies which were really good. The chunks of chocolate in the cookies were huge and they were a pleasant consistency - neither too soft nor too hard and crumbly.
The neighborhood is lucky to have a Robey cocktail menu to sip on and Laila there to shake, stir and deliver an excellent experience behind the bar. That Johnny Green Spot is something special.
Ammo: 1115 N. Highland Ave, Mid City | 323.871.2666 | www.ammocafe.com