Best Thing We Ate

Trend Alert! Boozy Hot Café Brûlot Takes SF

By Virginia Miller  |  June 25, 2014
Credit: Virginia Miller

Meet Café Brûlot, a boozy-hot, brandy coffee drink traditionally set aflame and served tableside. If you've spent any time in "real deal" New Orleans, you're acquainted with this choreographed showstopper, served at classic brunches in many of NOLA's historic restaurant greats, like Galatoire's, Commander's Palace and Arnaud's — all restaurants that blessedly keep decades-old traditions alive. For years, we've bemoaned the lack of this unique "cocktail" outside of NOLA (other than a brief showing of the drink on Pican's menu in 2009, but without the tableside preparation). But those days are over. Two great local barmen, Kevin Diedrich at Gaspar Brasserie and Isaac Shumway at Tosca Cafe, are both serving it up in true New Orleans fashion. 


Gaspar's Cafe Brulot [Photo Source: Virginia Miller]

The Drink: Brûlot essentially means “incendiary,” or designed to cause fires. And cause fires, it does. Most recipes call for an orange peel cut into one long, intact spiral, then studded with cloves; meanwhile, sugar, cinnamon sticks and brandy steep in a big silver tureen. Strong, black coffee is poured in the bowl, then a skilled hand holds the orange peel above the bowl and sets it alight, the flame racing fast down its length into the bowl below, which also catches on fire with the alcohol of the brandy. The concoction releases holiday spices into the air, bold with coffee aroma. Ladled into a cup, it is simultaneously sweet, booze-forward, citrus-y and comforting.

Gaspar Brasserie: As often happens in New Orleans, Gaspar's brûlot is served from a cart stacked with china (pictured above), bottles, citrus and the necessary cloves, cinnamon and ingredients. It is prepared (with Cognac) in a proper silver bowl and set aflame. The flaming spectacle is most dramatic at night but is available by request at lunch, too.

Tosca Cafe: With less space to roll carts around and flame bowls tableside, Bar Manager Isaac Shumway has still found a way to serve Café Brûlot with appropriate flare at Tosca. The brandy and steeping ingredients are placed in a glass, all visible to the drinker as it's being made. Coffee is poured over from a French press, and the studded orange peel is set alight directly in the glass.


Tosca Bar Manager Isaac Shumway serving Cafe Brulot [Photo Source: Virginia Miller]