Let's be clear. These aren't sodas. They're pops.
But they're nothing like the bubbly sugar bombs we've grown accustomed to at our neighborhood hot dog stands and burger joints.
Added last month to Dusek's already adventurous menu, the multiflavored pop is labor intensive and delectable, made with as much care as any entree that comes out of Dusek's kitchen: Charred grapefruit. Malted walnut. Blackberry tonic.
All are made with fresh ingredients and carbonated to order.
"High-quality nonalcoholic beverages were in the back of everyone's mind," said Will Duncan, Dusek's beverage director and a partner in the Pilsen restaurant that opened last fall. "But we have a commitment to craft and we want everything we offer to be of a quality that excites us."
The results, a collaboration between Duncan and sous chef Robert Hager, are as dazzling as pop gets in this town. They cost $6; if made boozy, it's $6 plus the cost of the shot.
Consider the charred grapefruit (which happens to be my favorite): Hager peels ripe grapefruit, then chars the fruit on a skillet, leading to a faint (and real) smokiness. He combines the reduced fruit with melted sugar and water. It remains in syrup form until ordered, when a bartender carbonates the liquid in a plastic bottle.
Though advertised simply as pop, they also make fantastic cocktail mixers. I've tried the charred grapefruit with local Letherbee gin and mezcal (separately) and the blackberry tonic also with Letherbee gin. They're bright, refreshing and delicious.
Dusek's consciously does not push the pop as boozy foundations, but Duncan respects the impulse.
"We made a conscious effort not to add pressure for people to have to add alcohol," he said. "That said, a shot of bourbon in the malted walnut is delicious. So is a shot of gin in the blackberry."
In a tradition-laden town like this, perhaps most important is that Dusek's got the verbiage right. The restaurant could have called the drinks sodas, but it had the good sense not to.
"Rather than call them 'hand-crafted soft drinks,' we made it casual, fun and irreverent," Duncan said. "It was unanimous: Let's be real Midwest about this and call it craft pop."
Take that, soda.
Dusek's is at 1227 W. 18th St.; 312-526-3851Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun