I've spent many an evening over couscous at my Israeli friend's house trying, but failing miserably, to properly pronounce the Hebrew name of his favorite spice paste: "Please pass the schug!"
Wrangling that "ch" can be an awkward, guttural acrobatic in which you swallow the word while you say it. But I love this Yemenite spice paste so much -- the green chilies aromatic with earthy cumin and cardamom (and sometimes fenugreek) -- that I keep trying.
And now that Rooster Soup Co. has mixed it into one of its excellent and potent cocktails, the Schug-A-Rita, I'm finding it considerably easier.
A Mexican drink with Israeli spice at an updated American luncheonette? It's no surprise given Rooster's Zahav DNA, but also so perfect for the multi-culti menus of 2017. And in an era in which spice in cocktails has become common enough to go beyond its onetime novelty status, I find this combo convincing.
Paired with a bracing shot of good blanco tequila and lime, the cilantro and serrano chilies transform this margarita into a vivid green Mediterranean brew whose prickly heat is frosty cold and lifted in perfect balance on a fragrant wave of Levantine market spice.
It's so good, in fact, I have to wonder whether Rooster Soup, which excels at comfort counter lunches and blue-plate dinners, is a sleeper happy-hour hit waiting to happen. With little meatballs to nibble and good discounts on the drinks between 5 and 7 p.m., I can at least practice my schug pronunciation skills at half-price.
Schug-A-Rita, $12 ($6 at Happy Hour), Rooster Soup Co., 1526 Sansom St., 215-454-6939; roostersoupcompany.com
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