The prize-winning sweet and spicy cocktail you must try

First it was Dustin Wade from Meadowlark.

Then it was Amber Brady from Lily’s Bistro.

Last year it was Nikolaus Hunt from Coco’s Bistro.

The question heading into the Wednesday Buckeye Vodka Battle of the Bartenders event was who would be crowned the best bartender in the Miami Valley this year and which restaurant would nab the title for best pairing.

Turns out the answer is one in the same.

Bill Castro, co-owner of West Carrollton’s El Meson, took home first prize in both categories.

His winning cocktail the Tamiami Mami, named after the Tamiami Trail in southern Florida, is a thick, rich, intense mixture layering sweet, sour, savory and spicy flavors. Made with Buckeye Vodka, guava nectar, fresh lime juice and fire water bitters, garnished with candied guava and lime, it paired effortlessly with the restaurant's delicious chorizo and grits dish that was served alongside it.

“A drink and food should stop your moment. Catch your breath, roll your eyes, whatever it is,” said Castro. “If your drink is weak and your food is great it won’t balance. It will tell you. There should be a perfect balance and it should include all of the senses. It’s about the experience and pairing these elements together is part of that.”

Last year best pairing went to El Meson for the hot and sweet passion fruit juice infused Spicy Cockatoo and their tangy, flavorful perfect Chilean Beef Empanadas. Castro took home second place for the cocktail.

It’s clear Castro knows what he’s doing when it comes to finding the right flavors and dishes to marry. He explains that when restaurants do this well it is an art form.

“Coming in tonight the stakes were higher, but it was about participating and raising the bar and having our customers and strangers coming up and saying ‘wow, this was so good!’ We live for that every night. It’s a performance. The curtains go up, you go on, you sign your heart out, you tap dance and then you see the audience applause — that’s the reward,” said Castro. “This is event is very dear to our hearts. It gives us the inspiration to be better. We are always trying to bring in creativity and try to reflect our culture.”

The Tamiami Mami is currently on El Meson’s cocktail menu and can be ordered, while the chorizo and grits will be occasionally featured and rotated in as a specialty menu item.

The Buckeye Vodka Battle of the Bartenders event, now in it’s fourth year, has continued to gain interest from the community.

“We do a lot of events focusing on the restaurants in town and we have a lot of talented bartenders and I thought, ‘what about creating an event that focuses on them?’,” said Amy Zahora Miami Valley Restaurant Association Executive Director. “We still have the food aspect there, but the main focus is the bartender.”

More than 14 restaurants were on hand serving food and libations to hungry diners.

"Buckeye on the Beach" was the second place winning cocktail from Coco's Bistro made with pineapple infused vodka, cream of coconut, Pernod and pineapple juice served over crushed ice. This frothy take on a piña colada had the surprise accent of the anise-flavored Pernod to sneak up and surprise with each sip.

"Beet Around the Bush" from elé Cake Co. Bistro and Wine Bar took home third place. Made with beet infused vodka, dry vermouth, ginger simple syrup, a splash of ginger ale and garnished with lime, it wasn't for everyone with the focus on the sweet beets, but if you liked it you really, really liked it.

“A drink should be an experience … Every sip should get your attention,” said Castro.

I couldn’t agree more. Whatever you are sipping on, if you can pair it well with a well executed dish, you will have just elevated that dining experience to a next level win.

Dayton Eats looks at the regional food stories and restaurant news that make mouths water. Menu updates, special dinners and events, new chefs, interesting new dishes and culinary adventures. Do you know of new exciting format changes, specials, happy hours, restaurant updates or any other tasty news you think is worth a closer look at? E-mail Alexis Larsen at with the information and we will work to include it in future coverage.

2017 Buckeye Vodka Battle of the Bartenders participating restaurants

Basil’s on the Market, 18 N. Market Street, Troy and 312 N. Patterson Blvd., Dayton

Caddy’s Tap House, 9400 N. Springboro Pike, Miamisburg

Carver’s, 1535 Miamisburg Road, Washington Twp.

Chappys Social House, 7880 Washington Village Dr., Dayton

Coco’s Bistro, 250 Warren Street, Dayton

El Meson, 903 E Dixie Dr., West Carrollton

elé Cake Co. Bistro and Wine Bar, 3680 Rigby Rd., Dayton

Lily’s Bistro, 329 East Fifth St., Dayton

Mack’s Tavern, 381 Miamisburg Centerville Road, Centerville

Nelly’s, 79 S. Main St., Centerville

Nibble’s Restaurant & Catering, 105 S. Second St., Miamisburg

Roost American, 580 Lincoln Park Blvd., Kettering

Tank’s Bar and Grill, 2033 Wayne Ave., Dayton

Wandering Griffin, 3725 Presidential Dr., Beavercreek

Wheat Penny, 515 Wayne Ave, Dayton

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