Hello foodies! My name is Matt Benacquista and welcome to my new column. I have been in the Foodservice Industry for over 26 years, 24 of those as a bartender/mixologist. I have worked in every type of establishment from Jersey Shore nightclubs to Hoboken dive bars to some of NYC’s high-end boutique hotels. You best believe, I’ve seen it all! So, when Dining Out Jersey reached out to me, we immediately agreed that highlighting some extraordinary mixologists and their establishments would be an amazing way to not only promote their bar scene but the craft of mixology as well. So, please enjoy the following bios, stories, and some great recipes to try at home. We hope you enjoy it and look forward to bringing you more incredible mixologists in future issues!

River Palm Terrace {1416 River Rd, Edgewater; 201-224-2013; riverpalm.com}


Jess has been in the industry for over 20 years as a server and bartender in both NY and NJ. The River Palm Terrace is an upscale chophouse that pairs steaks, seafood, and sushi, and offers an eclectic bar scene from mayors to athletes to celebrities to normal everyday people. “I love that although I’m behind the same bar five days a week, I never know who is going to walk through those doors and sit down at my bar. Every day is an adventure! And it’s important to make every customer feel special with a warm welcome, positive body language, and engaging conversation. A great cocktail is just icing on the cake!”

One of Jess’ go-to cocktails that makes the holiday drink menu every year has been the Maple Bacon Bourbon Manhattan, an absolutely delicious cocktail that combines the big vanilla, oak, and caramel notes of bourbon, with the subtly sweet, spicy, and slightly bitter finish of sweet vermouth, finished off with magnificently rich maple syrup and the saltiness of pure grade A bacon.

Maple Bacon Bourbon Manhattan

3 oz Bourbon
.75 oz Sweet Vermouth
.75 oz Maple Syrup

Shake or Stir
Strain into a martini glass or into a rocks glass over a big cube
Garnish with bacon and cherry

Maple Bacon Bourbon Manhattan

Halcyon Brasserie {114 Walnut St, Montclair; 973-744-4450; halcyonbrasserie.com}


Chris has eight years of experience in the industry, and six as a bartender. He worked his way up from bar back to bartender to general manager. “A great mixologist understands the balance between pricing, quality drink making, awesome customer experience, and the efficiency it takes to produce quality cocktails in a fast-paced environment.” Halcyon’s high volume, premium casual dining experience challenges its mixologists to deliver excellent hospitality on a daily basis. “Consistency, adaptability, and personality are the cornerstones of any great bar/restaurant experience, and
that’s what we do here at Halcyon.”

And for a smooth tasting and creamy winter cocktail, Chris presents us with the Halcyon Winter Coquito – a coconut and almond-flavored libation with hints of cinnamon and nutmeg that can be served cold or warm.

Halcyon Winter Coquito

Let’s Meat Steakhouse {625 Rivervale Rd, River Vale, 201-660-7960; letsmeatsteakhouse.com}


Winter Chai Bourbon Sour

Pete Duca has been in the industry for over ten years as a bartender/manager and still loves the “eclectic clientele and
limitless possibilities of cocktail creation.” He’s journeyed all over northern New Jersey in search of the perfect fit for his
personality and mixology knowledge. Let’s Meat’s vision was to create a unique steakhouse experience using the finest USDA Prime dry-aged steaks, premium seafood, Italian specialties, and other unique flavors from around the world in a relaxed and comfortable atmosphere. “It’s upscale meets a fun, laid back vibe. We encourage our guests to have fun here.” As a mixologist, Pete believes the secret to making a great cocktail is simple, “Balance is a must. A drink without proper balance is precisely that, a drink. A cocktail needs to have that proper balance to be great.” Pete came up with a delicious cocktail called the Winter Chai Bourbon Sour (aka For That Guy on Google – see Pete for explanation). The bourbon has aromas of molasses, mint, and vanilla and tastes sweet with notes of anise, brown sugar, dark fruit spice, oak, and toffee. The white vermouth adds a great balance of both sweet and bitter, complemented by the chai
simple syrup, fresh lemon juice, and Angostura Bitters – the perfect winter/holiday drink

LT Bar and Grill {The Shops at Riverside, 390 Hackensack Ave, Hackensack; 551-287-6333; ltbarandgrill.com}


Christian has spent nine years in the industry and has worked on both sides of the Hudson River. Currently, he manages LT Bar and Grill which offers a new take on the traditional American cuisine featuring avant-garde salads, dry-aged steaks, fresh seafood, indulgent side dishes, decadent desserts, as well as innovative sushi. The restaurant and bar
scene offers a New York City feel without having to leave New Jersey – an elegant twist on traditional cocktails, but casual enough for a neighborhood vibe. Christian explains, “Hospitality is something that is innate – it’s a natural occurrence within a person that longs to make others feel genuinely welcomed and at home. You cannot teach hospitality. You can teach someone how to serve or bartend, but you cannot teach being genuine.” A genuinely great drink that will be on the LT Holiday Drink Menu is the Apple Cinnamon Bourbon. This cocktail is simple, yet sophisticated, bringing together the delicious flavors of a light-to-medium-bodied bourbon with notes of creamy vanilla and pepper and the sweet and tart notes of traditional apple cider.

Apple Cinnamon Bourbon
2 oz Cinnamon Infused
Great Jones Bourbon
3 oz Apple Cider
.5 oz Agave

Add ingredients over ice in a pint glass. Cinnamon sugar rim rocks glass. Shake and strain over ice into rocks glass.
Garnish with cinnamon a stick.

By Matt Benacquista