Sabor, the Brazilian churrascaria (steakhouse) that has been serving Gaucho barbeque for some time on Water Street, unleashed their version of southern hemisphere-inspired pub food and unconventional cocktails nearly one year ago. Beta by Sabor (777 North Water Street) takes up the front portion of the building, greeting customers with a modish bar, pub tables, at-bar seating and a view of the hustle and bustle of Water Street. Those that require a more conventional dining experience can continue into Beta’s high-ceilinged lounge area for a booth, a table or even a comfortable sofa.
On this night, my lady and I chose to remain at the center of the activity and table-up near the bar. The view of Water Street allowed for prime people-watching.
As it was the dinner hour, we saw multiple couples converging at the door, glowing with anticipation and hand-holding while families dropped their cars at the valet and drifted in one at a time.
Diverting my gaze from the street, I learned the drink list is quite expansive and diverse. The major players are all accounted for, allowing for multiple palates to find satisfaction effectively.
For starters, I chose the General Lee ($10.00) with house-made blueberry and honey-infused bourbon cordial. It was sweetly candied but held the charred oaky flavor as bourbon should. Aside from the floating steeped blueberries, a large sphere of ice occupied the tumbler. I thought at one point this globule may roll out of the glass and into one of my baby browns, but alas, she stayed true, frosting the short glass of berries and bourbon.
As it was the fifth of May, my lovely lady decided to partake in the festivities and order the La Fresa Margarita ($10.00) -- strawberry-infused Camarena Reposado, fresh lime and sour. Keep your blenders in your cupboards and your bottle of Jose “Ahem” mix in the pantry; this margarita was fresh, with the ideal mix of sweet and sour over a collection of perfectly squared cubes of ice. (Aside: if you haven’t noticed, the perfect geometrical configuration of cocktail ice can have a favorable effect on how they’re received.
As for food, it was a difficult decision considering the “Deviled Eggs of the Week” and the seared scallops with banana puree, but we came to an agreement on the pickle jar ($5.00), with assorted pickled vegetables, served with cheese crackers and topped with crispy bacon. Pickled items included Brussels sprouts, white and green beans, cabbage, carrots, mushrooms, candied/pickled jalapeños, beets, small, unknown-to-me onions and, of course, cucumbers.
Between the two of us, this was a trying, yet rousing task. Have you ever eaten a whole jar of pickles? No? I didn’t think so. Although each and every piece of veggie on that plate was delicious, I’m pretty sure you can overdose on vinegar, salt and spices. The only antidote:another ‘snack’ plate.
Our alternative to the pickled life was the Beta Sliders ($8.00); four Asian-style steamed buns topped with scallions, chervil, pork belly and a Dr. Pepper pan sauce. (These sliders are also available with steamed shrimp cake for $10.) The downy buns were light and complemented the strapping, smoky flavor of the pork belly, while the pleasant sharpness of the Dr. Pepper drizzle finished our taste buds with a daub of sweet cane.
If I can interrupt your drooling, I will share my final cocktail of the night (although I did venture out later for more cocktails): the Kentucky Breakfast Old Fashioned ($9.00). This farm/Vermont-inspired creation included bacon-infused Knob Creek bourbon, maple syrup, Luxardo Maraschino and an upright slice of bacon. The sweet combination of Maraschino and maple syrup merge with the bourbon to consummate a marriage of intense flavor, sipable and delectable to all tastes.
Although we had kept our drink choices narrow, there are multiple alternatives to the aforementioned bourbon and tequila. On a future trek into the Brazilian Highlands I will seek out the Mr. McGregor's Garden ($9.00), made with Don Cesar Pisco (brandy made with black grapes), muddled heirloom radish, Aperol and ginger-lemongrass syrup; or the Steve Zissou ($10.00), made with Bourbon-barrel aged Negroni, Plymouth Gin, Campari and sweet vermouth; or the Tomato Vesper ($9.00) made with Milwaukee’s Rehorst vodka, tomato water, Ransom Old Tom gin, Cocchi Americano and Peychaud's bitters. I’m a little inebriated just thinking about these drinks!
As I’m sure you are well aware by now, the pricing structure at Beta by Sabor is leaning toward the high end of the market. But the quality of the ingredients and the intelligence in the recipes justify these prices. Like I said earlier, I continued my night at another establishment and proceeded to drink Walter’s Premium Pilsner Beer (Eau Claire) out of a can, because it’s not so much what you have in your wallet, it’s what you choose to feed your belly.
The small plate/specialty cocktail revolution is here. My first experience was a drinker’s delight. And although Brazil is a long plane ride away, its seductive flavors are right here in our fair city.