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I love the new enhanced and improved Coastal Illustrated format – the bigger pages, the quality photos, the terrific columns … oh wait – those aren’t new! But, still, I wanted to enliven my own small portion of the publication by adding something different. My idea is to seek out local bartenders, get to know them a bit, find out their specialties, and maybe even have a lite bite or appetizer at their establishment’s bar. I hope this new feature – I’m calling it Meet, Mix, and Eat – will be a regular feature that will add local flavor (flavor, get it?) to this column, and of course I’ll still aspire to keep readers posted as to beverage trends and seasonal libations.

My first Meet, Mix, and Eat segment practically wrote itself. I was relaxing on the porch and it was so hot I was almost in a stupor. Not so much so that I wasn’t getting hungry. My wife asked what I’d like for dinner. No way either us is cooking. Out of the blue I suggest calamari. Amazingly we are on the same wavelength as she enthusiastically agrees! But WHERE?

Calamari, which I now love, was a dish I was hesitant to try. My first experience was not a good one. There is quite the art to the proper preparation, or the little rings become rubber bands and the tentacles are completely inedible. Where could we find some crispy flash-fried done-to-perfection squid? Then I remembered where I had enjoyed some that was really good – Nazzaro’s.

Regular readers of this column know I am enamored of all things Italian. I wear Italian sunglasses, quaff Italian mineral water, once drove a Fiat X 1/9 (and aspire to own another Fiat – but my wife has so far put a firm quietus on that). I was convinced I had a fair proportion of Italian blood running through my veins – until Ancestry.com disillusioned me of that notion (darn!). Anyway, Nazzaro’s is completely authentic. I mean – look at the name. And, although you may not know this, calamari is quite authentically Italian, too – the word actually means squid in Italian.

As we entered the restaurant and headed for the bar, a friendly voice greeted us. The bartender, Linda, welcomed us in style and was offering us drinks before we had fully settled onto our stools. I told her I had a calamari craving and she promptly placed our order. My wife opted for a glass of prosecco (very Italian) while I asked if Linda could craft a Negroni. She gave me a sidelong glance that spoke volumes, as though I had questioned her Italian restaurant bartender credentials. “Of course,” she replied, “coming right up.”

A proper Negroni, although comprised of just three ingredients, is not that easy to find. For one thing, many bars don’t have sweet vermouth, just the dry version for martinis, readily at hand. And if they don’t stock Campari, you are completely out of luck.

NEGRONI

1 oz. London dry gin

1 oz. Campari

1 oz. vermouth rosso

Add the ingredients together in a cocktail shaker. Shake well with cracked ice.

Strain into a glass over cubed ice. Garnish with a twist of orange peel.

As you can see the drink is simplicity itself (if you have all three ingredients). Just mix everything together in equal parts and voila! Or ecco! (sticking with Italian), I suspect Linda might have gone a bit heavier on the gin (fine with me) because the drink packed a nice punch and was totally delicious, as was the crispy and light calamari with a side of excellent marinara. Incidentally, this year marks the 100th anniversary of the Negroni’s creation, said to have been invented in Florence when an Italian nobleman insisted the bartender replace the club soda in his Americano with gin. Sounds like my kind of nobleman …

The Negroni is a great summertime sipper that I’m sure you’ll enjoy. I liked mine so much that I ordered the fried ravioli as an excuse for a second drink. If you don’t care for squid you can’t go wrong with this selection. It, too, arrives with a side of marinara – and if you’re like us you’ll savor every last smidgeon.

My bartender friend Linda was quite busy while we sat at the Nazzaro’s bar, but totally efficient and we enjoyed talking to her. She was enduring a run on lemon drop martinis on this particular night and reaming vast numbers of lemons. Her mood was definitely not affected – she apparently adheres to the adage “when life hands you lemons” make them into lemon drops. Nevertheless, she did look relieved when we didn’t order anything that required squeezing any fruit. Her “grazie” when we left seemed quite genuine.

If you want to whip up your own lemon drop, here’s how:

LEMON DROP MARTINI

1-1/2 oz. vodka (use a good-quality vodka)

1/2 oz. orange liqueur

1 tsp. superfine sugar or to taste

3/4 oz. freshly squeezed lemon juice

Superfine sugar for dipping

Twisted peel of lemon

Mix the vodka, orange liqueur, sugar, and lemon juice in a cocktail shaker half-filled with ice; shake well.

Strain into sugar-rimmed martini cocktail glass and garnish with a twisted peel of lemon.

If you’re just making one and need just ¾ oz. of lemon juice, well – no problem. Preparing them en masse would be a different matter. Those forearms get a workout. Or you could buy an electric juicer. I hear a good one is made by Bialettii. Why yes – it IS Italian!