Any restaurant that specializes in rye whiskey and boasts 40 different varieties of the spirit is bound to have an outstanding cocktail program. This is certainly the case at Second State, the Pennsylvania themed eatery located in the former Mighty Pint space in Dupont Circle. Beverage Program Director Boris Stojkovic is passionate about using the Pennsylvania style whiskey, dating back to before Prohibition, in both classic cocktail recipes and innovative creations. All of the cocktails use fresh, local ingredients and the syrups and mixes are made in house by Boris.
In fact, on a recent visit for brunch, Boris had been up all night juicing kale for the Kale Mary, a delightfully refreshing twist on the traditional brunch drink.
We recommend dressing up in your brunch best to attend their Stately Affair brunch and sip on a complimentary mimosa or glass of rye whiskey before sampling your way through Boris’ outstanding cocktail menu. A plate of their impossible to resist French Toast sticks wouldn’t hurt either. We recently sat down with Boris to discuss Pennsylvania’s rye whiskey tradition, the craft cocktail scene, and what drink he hopes no one ever orders again. Read on to see what he had to say and read our review of Second State here, and of Copperwood Tavern, here.
Where is your favorite place to brunch in town?
My favorite place to brunch to in town is Estadio. I usually don’t even get something off the brunch menu. I just love the charcuterie; it’s my favorite thing to eat in the world. My favorite thing is to pair charcuterie with sherry. It’s my favorite place to go and eat and bring friends. I love that place and I’ve never had a bad experience there.
What is your favorite dish to cook for brunch?
It depends. If I cook for myself, I just go with the scrambled eggs with some bacon or something else simple. If I cook for my friends, I like to cook something from back home. I like to make a very simple dish that has a lot of olive oil, olives, and fresh vegetables. It’s basically like a quiche with a lot of vegetables. I also make the best cheese pie in the world. When I’m trying to impress, I make that.
Do you prefer to brunch in or out?
I prefer to stay in my bed on Saturday and Sunday because I usually work weekend nights and stay up too late. If I had to go out, I would prefer someone else to cook, but I usually like to stay at home.
What brunch item do you have to order if it’s on the menu?
I like pancakes. Everybody is doing a different kind of pancakes now. It’s a simple dish but a lot of restaurants don’t know how to make it. It’s kind of a test. Like if you know how to make a simple cocktail; it shows you know how to make things. Pancakes are a simple dish, but unfortunately not a lot of people do it well. I usually order blueberry pancakes at Second State when I work brunch.
What is your favorite item on Second State’s brunch menu? What is the most-ordered item?
I think the blueberry pancakes are the most popular. My favorite is bagels and lox with cream cheese.
Do you prefer Bloody Marys or mimosas?
I prefer Bellinis, but I add oranges instead of peach syrup. I like classic cocktails—because it’s an old classic recipe. I do like simple Bloody Marys that are classic—nothing crazy like those with 100 different ingredients. I also go for a very traditional and classic Bloody Mary.
If you had to invite a local celebrity to brunch, who would it be?
Dave Grohl is my favorite, not just local, but in the entire world. I grew up listening to Nirvana and that kind of music. I had the pleasure of serving him at Copperwood Tavern. Hes’ one of my favorite people in the world. He’s just a really nice guy.
You make a lot of classic cocktails with a Pennsylvania twist. How did you familiarize yourself with Pennsylvania cocktails traditions?
Rye whiskey was born in Pennsylvania and Pennsylvania developed a style of whiskey called Pennsylvania Rye. There were two styles of whiskey even before prohibition: Maryland style and Pennsylvania style. There’s so much history in Pennsylvania. When you think of classic cocktails, you think of rye and gin, and most of the rye was distilled in Pennsylvania. A lot of brands moved to Kentucky but they’re making rye in the original style from Pennsylvania. If you want to try the original taste you’ll try the Pennsylvania style.
The craft cocktail scene has surged in recent years. What do you attribute this to?
I think food culture actually helped drinking culture. When people realized they really want to get good quality ingredients on their plate, they started wondering why they don’t have great ingredients in their glass. Back in the day, bartenders had to make everything on their own, so now were going back 100 years to where everything was fresh, local, and farm to table. The bartenders realized they had good fresh ingredients on the place and it didn’t make sense to have a drink made with artificial flavors. Before prohibition, there was a golden era of cocktails and we’re still using all the recipes but doing a modern play.
What cocktail is most ordered? What drink do you hope no one ever orders again?
Well the most popular is the Dutch Mule and the Machinist. I hope no one ever orders a Long Island Iced Tea again. I really want to smack people when they place that order. Even worse than a regular Long Island Iced Tea is one using top shelf liquor. It’s such a bad call. You serve people sometimes at the bar and you’re like, please order something because I want to educate people.
Second State specializes in whiskey. What’s your favorite whiskey and what’s your favorite way to drink it?
Bourbon is my favorite whiskey to drink, but rye whiskey is my favorite spirit to use to make cocktails. We’re a rye whiskey bar at Second State with 40 different kinds of whiskey. I like both but for mixing and making cocktails; I like rye a lot more. I like to drink bourbon neat with a small splash of water.
We’ve all heard of wine and beer pairings but are there any great cocktail and food pairings?
Yeah, absolutely. I love cocktail and food pairings. It’s hard to pair classic cocktails with food because they have a very complex flavor and taste. My favorite cocktail to pair with food is citrus spiced because it has a lot of great flavor and is something more refreshing to drink. The mule is a great cocktail to pair with any food, especially seafood or salads. Gin and tonics are really great to pair with food. Gin is the probably the easiest to use in a food and cocktail pairing. I wouldn’t pair food with too much bourbon and whiskey but I’d go with something easier on the palate that doesn’t kill your experience of eating and tasting that food. Food has a lot more ingredients and is a lot more complex, so you really want the drink to be easier on the palate.