The bar menu at Heights Taco and Tamale Co. never got quite as specialized as the other Yellow Rocket Concepts locations. Of course, Lost Forty is all about its beer, while Local Lime still makes some of the best margaritas and agave-based drinks in town. Big Orange is the bartender’s bar, moving the entire Little Rock bar scene forward at times with exotic ingredients and classic technique. But Heights Taco and Tamale Co. has never really had a definite identity in terms of the bar program. Don’t get me wrong, the bar has always been good, and the frozen mojito is one of the most gratifying cocktails you can find. But there’s just no easy way to define everything that goes on behind the bar at HTT.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing, especially when you consider how it gives the bar staff plenty of flexibility in mixing up new creations. The new spring cocktail menu, the first seasonal menu from bar manager Emily Brown, takes full advantage of the elbow room, featuring four drinks with four different primary spirits. Brown might be a newcomer to the scene, but already she’s showing artistic flair and a keen eye for creating a cohesive menu from some very different cocktails.
“I really like flowers and herbs in my drinks, I think it shows,” said Brown. “Spring played into this a lot, I really wanted something fresh and something that reminds you of the season. I wanted there to be balance, too, so we have one agave drink, one rum, one gin and one whiskey. But I wanted it all to be light.”
The creativity at play here is admirable, especially in the new Make it Snap-Pea! It is the first cocktail I’ve ever had with snap pea juice, which both gives the drink vibrance and some weight. Brown partners the pea juice with El Dorado rum, lime and fennel syrup for what has to be one of the most fresh-tasting cocktails in town.
“I got inspired with this one,” laughed Brown. “I took a chance and I think it worked out. I wanted to make drinks you can’t get other places, something you would never even think of but still enjoy. This was one of those rare drinks that I liked the first time I made it.”
Former HTT bar manager Jared Teague contributed what will likely be a big people-pleaser on the menu with the Strawberry Feels Forever. A mildly smoky Koch Espadin Mezcal pairs with Giffard strawberry liqueur and lemon juice for the dominant springtime notes. A beautiful thyme liqueur rinse and a touch of honey syrup add to that fresh profile with restraint; you have to search for that taste of thyme, but it’s certainly there. This is a nice introduction to Mezcal drinks for those who have never tasted one before.
Rosemary’s Baby continues the flowery theme with stunning color from a hibiscus-rosemary syrup. Botanical gin, vermouth, lemon, orange peel oleo saccharum (oil extracted with sugar) and a splash of soda water make for what I found to be the most refreshing cocktail on the menu. Again, the artistic touches Brown gives these cocktails are so welcome, as the macerated hibiscus flower garnish just sets off the entire experience.
Those who really enjoy their cocktails should order A Kick in the Bud, which is Brown’s eclectic play on a whiskey sour. The showstopper is a double rye whiskey infused with chamomile tea, which softens the peppery notes of the rye and gives the whole drink a velvety texture. Genepy, lemon juice, cardamom honey and housemade chamomile bitters come together in a bold and brilliant drink. If I were to only order one off this menu, this would be it.
The bar scene in Little Rock has long punched above its weight class, and it’s great to see that tradition continue at Heights Taco and Tamale Company. This is simply exciting stuff seeing an unmistakable new talent in Brown fearlessly showing off her skills and palate. This new cocktail menu makes it clear that cheese dip isn’t the only reason you should stop in at HTT.