The Margarita has become synonymous with having a good time in bars and restaurants across this country and rightly so. This classic cocktail is refreshing, full of flavor and carries a potent kick, all the things needed in a party drink. But it is also a deceptive drink to make correctly; as we have all found out at friends parties or bars that can’t just get it quite right. To understand how to make a great Margarita let us first talk about its history. The most commonly told story of the drinks’ origin is that it was invented one slow, business day in October 1941, by bartender Don Carlos Orozco in the city of Ensenada, Mexico at Hussong’s Cantina. It seems that Carlos was experimenting with different combinations when Ms Margarita Henkel came in and asked for something cool and refreshing. Well, being that Ms Henkel was the daughter of the German Ambassador and thus a VIP, Carlos named his new drink after her because she was the first person to try one. The drink that Carlos invented that glorious day was equal parts Tequila, Damiana Liquor and fresh lime juice served over ice with a salted rim; the rest, as they say, is history. The Margarita went through some changes when it arrived in the States, mainly the substitution of Cointreau (a bitter sweet orange liquor) mainly due to the unavailability of the Damiana Liquor. After Prohibition the Margarita has steadily grown to become the most popular cocktail in the United States and one of the most popular in the rest of the alcohol drinking world as well.
The problem that has arisen with this popularity is the bastardization of the original recipe. I am not talking about flavored or frozen Margaritas, I mean the outright changes to the basic recipe for economic and time saving reasons or regional quirks. The modern day ClassicMargarita recipe is genius in its simplicity; 2 ounces silver Tequila, 1 ounce Cointreau Liquor, 1 ounce fresh squeezed lime juice shaken over ice and served in a glass with or without a salted rim. This combination marries the potent earthiness of tequila with the fresh, tart brightness of lime juice with just a hint of bitter orange which is unique to Cointreau. Notice how orange juice is not mentioned at all. For some reason orange juice has become an almost universal addition to the recipe by bartenders in our area to “balance the bitterness” of the lime juice. That reason might make sense except that 95% of those bartenders don’t even squeeze their own lime juice. Most bars use a bottled Sour Mix which, while being less expense and a time saver, is also so full of chemicals that it causes heartburn after the second cocktail. That is where the unwanted “bitterness” comes from and the first and most egregious mistake in the making of a perfect Margarita.
Now let me explain one basic thing, when you go to Mexico and order a Margarita they do not use the Persian limes we have here in the States. Mexican limes are closer in flavor and size to Key limes, which are smaller and sweeter than Persians. Anyone who has ever gone to Louie’s Back Porch in Key West and ordered their Margarita can attest to the difference that Key limes make. The answer to the problem of “bitterness” is not orange juice but a touch of simple syrup. This quick and easy solution balances the Margarita without affecting the flavor, color or point of the cocktail. Simply put, if you want orange juice with your tequila make a Tequila Sunrise, just keep it far away from my Margarita. Also, if a bartender starts going for the Rose’s Lime Juice cancel your order immediately and order a beer.
The three places that I have found in Ocean City that use fresh squeezed lime juice are The Sunset Grille, The Shark on the Harbor and The Harborside Bar and Grill all conveniently located on the Fishing Harbor in West Ocean City. All three establishments have comfortable bars and offer a great view of the West Ocean City Marina and Fishing Harbor. On a hot summers day or any other time of year there are few places that are as inviting as these three bars.
Making sure that your favorite bar uses fresh lime juice is only the first part of the battle. Secondly, you have to make sure your bar carries Cointreau and then, ask for it in your drink. It will be a dollar or two more expensive, but the difference in flavor is worth it. Triple Sec is used instead of Cointreau in many bars, mainly for economic reasons, but it does not have the depth of flavor of the original. Thirdly, you must ask for a quality silver Tequila, after all it is the main ingredient in a Margarita. Finally, tell your bartender to keep their orange juice to themselves. Fortunately, or unfortunately, Ocean City, Md is the only place where I have come across this habit of adding orange juice to a Margarita but we must all keep a vigilant watch. After all, a perfect Margarita is a precious thing and should be cherished wherever you can find it. So don’t be afraid to tell a bartender how you want your Margarita made! Say It Loud and Say It Proud! No OJ! No Sour Mix! Salud, Amigos.
Try these Ocean City Restaurants for a great margarita!
The Shark on the Harbor in West Ocean City: 410-213-0924;
Harborside Bar & Grill in West Ocean City: 410-213-1846
Sunset Grille in West Ocean City, 410-213-8110