Huntsville might seem like an offbeat locale to launch a white-tablecloth restaurant group. But for Beverage Director Suzan Boyce and her husband, Jim, a James Beard Award-nominated chef, the historic Southern city has been the perfect setting for their five establishments.
At their flagship restaurant, Cotton Row—which is set in an edifice dating back to 1821, when the local cotton industry was thriving—Boyce crafts food-friendly libations to pair with Jim’s French-inflected American cuisine. Her penchant for cocktails with citrusy profiles and acidity eases pairings. “If [a dish has] a creamy sauce, butter or fat, the acidity will cut right through and cleanse the palate,” she says.
Aside from utilizing citrus as a bridging element, Boyce also turns to herbs to link cocktail and cuisine. She’s been known to pluck fresh lemon verbena, rosemary and basil from her restaurant’s on-premise garden to fashion house-made spirited infusions. Boyce also favors using vegetables—such as cucumber—to bolster a mixed drink’s pairing ability. The slightly eccentric Derby Martini is a case in point. Using Bourbon as the base, Boyce layers in cucumber, mint and brown sugar syrup.
To help create food-and-cocktail synergy, Boyce employs a technique called mirroring, in which the flavors in the glass are reflected on the plate—or vice versa. The Derby Martini, she explains, is a great complement to the Grilled Loch Duarte Salmon, with couscous and a salad of endive, arugula, herbs and cucumber.
“The smoky quality in the Bourbon and caramel quality from the brown sugar complement the grilled flavor [of] the rich salmon. The salad components bring out the cucumber and herb garnishes in the cocktail,” she says. “This is a perfect pairing.”