Bartender of the Month-Sam Pillion of Root’s Cafe

We talk about Roots Cafe’s locally inspired drinks list with Sam Pillion

So, Roots Cafe isn’t the biggest space in town. Is there always someone actively bartending? There isn’t one dedicated person. Everyone knows how to make the drinks, but—as front of house manager—I make them the majority of the time because the servers are busy.

Do you consider yourself a bartender? Yeah. Absolutely. I don’t bartend at Roots in the traditional sense, but I can and have before.

But you’re responsible for designing the cocktails on the menu, right? Me and the owner, Dan Cellucci, come up with the cocktails together.

What’s the process like? We go through a lot of brainstorming. We have to think about our available space, and creating cocktails that are quick to make but that also offer really complex flavors. Plus, we always focus on local factors, like, having all beers from Pennsylvania. We also place an emphasis on seasonal ingredients. We actually just finished our spring cocktail list that’s coming out.

Tell me about that menu. We always try to do a spin on a Moscow Mule, so we’re offering a Spring Roots Mule. That come with house-infused pineapple vodka, fresh-squeezed lime juice, and we use Ginger Brew by Maine Root soda—it’s organic, natural, sugar cane soda. We actually only
use Maine Root for all our sodas, so even if you get just a rum and coke, it’s made with really high-quality soda, not just squirted out of a gun.

I know ginger is really popular right now, but I can’t bring myself to like it. Got anything else? We’ve got our famous bloody mary, which, like everything else, is made from scratch, so no Tabasco mix. We garnish that with Righteous Felon beef jerky, house-made pickles, celery, lemon and lime. For something a little lighter, our Bellini is made with fresh peach nectar and prosecco, garnished with basil.

How about a good food and drink pairing? The difficulty with giving you a pairing is that our menu switches up constantly, based on the availability of ingredients. But, let’s see… right now we have a Big Hill Cider-braised pork belly appetizer. Big Hill is a local cider, and when you sip one of their ciders with the braised pork belly, it’s pretty cool. And our local cheese plate, which primarily comes from The Farm at Doe Run, a local dairy farm, would go great with a Pinnacle Ridge pinot grigio, which is a great local wine.

Do you feel that your drinks are representative of the Roots dining experience as a whole? We really want to put out the message of fresh ingredients in everything from cocktails to the food. Our produce comes in daily, and we only source local ingredients. And soon, when the weather changes, you’ll be able to enjoy any of our cocktails out on the back patio, sitting in the middle of our herb garden. Order a Bellini, and the basil in your drink might come from right next to your seat.

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