Festively frothy: Tom and Jerry tumble
blog by BuffaloDotCom • December 24, 2012 @ 9:21am
Your cheeks are brittle, shoulders shivering and ears numb. You’ve finished the vast majority of your Christmas shopping, but stress and exhaustion are slowly wresting the upper-hand. Tune out the haters; it’s time to treat yourself. Why settle for an ice-cold beer when you can grasp a warm, stiff drink?
Meet the Tom and Jerry, a hot alcoholic beverage served in a Christmas mug at four Buffalo bars. (It’s also offered at a few places in Williamsville, but we kept it as close to the city center as we could). The recipe is standard—brandy, rum and hot water—but the topping is tailored to suit the preferences of its maker—or its consumer.
The origin of Tom and Jerrys is foggy, as this New York Times article explains, but the drink’s history is probably the last thing you’re concerned with when you’re trying to unwind after hustling down Elmwood, exploring the Southgate Plaza or driving back into North Buffalo from downtown.
S.J. and Ben T. surveyed the local Tom and Jerry scene, a phenomenon still relatively unknown to many locals. Cropping up in extreme cold-weather areas—like Western New York and Wisconsin—this “rich holiday elixir” is the “iced capp” of winter.
Here’s the rundown:
The restaurant: Schwabl’s, 789 Center Rd., West Seneca: Almost immediately off the Union Road exit of the 400, Schwabl’s—known for its roast beef on kummelweck—also boasts the longest tradition of serving a Tom and Jerry in Buffalo. The restaurant celebrated its 175th anniversary this year, 70 years in its current location.
Cost/potency: $6.50 for a small mug (~ 6 oz.); alcohol not particularly potent.
Who we spoke to: Debbie McGowan, Schwabl’s server.
Why they’re popular: Schwabl’s has never carried desserts on the menu, so this cold-weather treat is as close as the restaurant will come to offering a sweet.
Of our four stops, this Tom and Jerry tasted most like a dessert, too—McGowan described the secret, original recipe for the meringue as “almost like cake batter,” and there’s a small spoon to stir the batter into the liquor-hot water mixture. Each bowl of batter takes an hour to prepare, and it’s not strange for the restaurant to whip through six to eight bowls in one evening of dinners.
Taste: Sweet and thick—you’ll wish the mug was larger. A noticeable mint taste was present, and McGowan said that there was alcohol used in creating the batter—S.J.‘s tasting super-powers pointed to creme de menthe, but we cannot confirm. You won’t suffer through many gulps of pure brandy and rum—which Ben T. appreciated—as long as you use the tiny little spoon to aggressively stir the drink. (Beware, it’s quite sticky, so control your stirring a bit).
Presentation: Schwabl’s Tom and Jerry is served in a orange carnival cup—which Artvoice describes as a “dainty, vintage-styled Anchor Hocking Peach Lustre carnival glass”—but you can ask your waitress to see the special commemorative 175th glass.
Season: Schwabl’s Tom and Jerry season is the longest, running from Columbus Day through St. Patrick’s Day.
The restaurant: The Place, 229 Lexington Ave., Buffalo. When I initially called the Place at 4:30 p.m. on a weekday, my call had to be held because owner Ken Moriarty was concocting Tom and Jerrys for a party of 10. A stark contrast to the dimly lit, sophisticated Vera Pizzeria on the opposite side of Lexington, the Place is a bright, homey restaurant that bustles during the holiday season, due in large part to the availability of Tom and Jerrys.
Cost/potency: $8 for 11 oz. mug; alcohol very generous—drink is strong, especially toward the bottom.
Who we spoke to: Owner Ken Moriarty, who’s had Tom and Jerrys at the Place as long as he can remember—which is from age 5 in 1964. That’s tradition right there.
Why they’re popular: Moriarty does not view the Tom and Jerry as a dessert—it’s something that can be enjoyed at any time. The owner describes it simply as a “good holiday drink,” one that draws people together. For instance, Moriarty admits to regularly seeing four people out of a party of five order a Tom and Jerry, and the fifth person becomes so curious that the draw is irresistible. A festive, unifying drink in our own backyard.
Taste: A good mix of foamy and creamy, the thick meringue sits at the top and is impeccably difficult to stir into the remainder of the drink.
After a couple of mouthfuls of the batter, the brandy-rum-hot water combination introduces itself and becomes more and more powerful. The glass is so sizable that a decent buzz may result, so be wary before you order a second.
It takes Moriarty 20 minutes to prepare a bowl of his meringue, which tops off roughly 25 drinks. On the typical December day, he’ll go through 10 to 15 bowls, but on busy weekend nights like Sunday, he’ll sell 600+ Tom and Jerrys—a straight-up staggering amount.
Presentation: While the Place used to give away a commemorative Tom and Jerry glass with every drink sold, the demand has exploded to the extent where this is no longer possible. There’s a variety of festive mugs, however, which include cute, pudgy-faced reindeer and Christmas trees.
Season: Perhaps the shortest season for Tom and Jerrys, the Place serves the drink from the day after Thanksgiving through Jan. 5, when Moriarty expects a serious rush of customers making certain they cram one more beverage in before the close of the season.
The restaurant: Boomerang’s Bar and Grill, 995 Niagara St., Buffalo. We learned about Boomerang’s through our ill-fated “Feast to West” tour last fall, and stopping at this rather nondescript restaurant for a Tom and Jerry proved worthwhile. As a whole, the eatery prides itself on inexpensive, filling entrees.
Cost/potency: Just as big, if not slightly bigger, than the Place’s version, and it runs for only $6. It doesn’t pack quite the alcoholic punch as Moriarty’s, however.
Who we spoke to: Molly Malone, daytime server-bartender.
Why they’re popular: Malone did not hesitate in saying that the holiday season was what makes Tom and Jerrys popular, pointing to the decreases in the drink’s sales almost immediately after Christmas Day. It’s noteworthy that Boomerang’s inherited the Place’s Tom and Jerry recipe (meringue included) when the latter closed seven years ago. The Place remained closed for three years before reopening, and in the period between, Boomerang’s claimed its niche in the Tom and Jerry market.
Taste: Boomerang’s version was one of Ben T.‘s favorites—a close second to Schwabl’s, he says—as the meringue has the most egg and vanilla than any other Buffalo offering, creating a thickness and subtle not-too-sweet flavor that actually mixes quite well with the liquor at the bottom of the glass. Malone joked that Boomerang’s really only needs to stock brandy for this drink alone, but its throat-burning effects are muted by the generous dose of batter on top.
Presentation: A wide-rimmed glass—almost bowl-shaped—houses the drink, though there’s nothing particularly festive about the glass. A small Tom and Jerry cup lingers on the bar, however, so we’ll give them a little credit for that.
Season: Begins the day of Thanksgiving and runs through the majority of January, Malone said.
The restaurant: Cole’s, 1104 Elmwood Ave., Buffalo. A bar-restaurant that is a favorite among the late-college, young professional crowd in North Buffalo, Cole’s is almost always packed on a weekend evening. Few realize that Tom and Jerrys are offered here, though Cole’s take is considerably different than the others.
Cost/potency: $6 for ~ 8 ounces. Incredibly potent—be aware that this drink will have you feeling good very quickly.
Who we spoke to: Rob Sutton, bartender
Why it’s popular: “It’s a traditional British Christmas drink,” Sutton said over the bar. “The colder it gets, the more popular it is.” This is only speculation, but the drink may also be popular because of its alcohol content.
Taste: Cole’s batter on top is easily the most foamy, and its blend of nutmeg and cinnamon lends an apple cider-like flavor instead of mint and vanilla. Because the foam is so airy, however, it disappears quickly into the drink, and you’re left to combat the brandy-rum mixture that warms the heart and leaves the brain a little fuzzy.
Presentation: Nothing too special here, but Cole’s bowl of batter is left on top of the bar for all to see. No creativity points for festive service, unfortunately.
Season: The drink is offered from the day after Thanksgiving until Jan 2.
Thanks for accompanying us on the Tom and Jerry tour of the Buffalo area. Drink up, and make sure you don’t get too much meringue on your upper lip.