As a part of last month's Best Bars collection in The Baltimore Sun, "25 superlatives for Baltimore bars," the award for "Best Orange Crush" was pinned to a Canton favorite, Portside Tavern. And I, for one, was immediately disgruntled.
It's not that I need to be right (but I like to be right). But this is a dire situation — the very fiber of your social life is at stake here. So listen up: You're missing out if you belly up to Portside solely for their crushes. Don't get me wrong — Portside's version is a strong, solid variation on a Maryland favorite. But, for my money, if you want the absolutely gold standard of orange crushes in Baltimore, head out to Ryleigh's Oyster in Baltimore County.
Yes, yes — there's the original oyster bar in Federal Hill, of course. But the newest addition to the Ryleigh's group (which is dubbed Ryleigh's Oyster Hunt Valley but is technically in Timonium) was, in part, specifically designed to accommodate the high demand for crushes: orange, grapefruit and other seasonal varieties, like watermelon. "How seriously do we take [them]?" said marketing manager Scotti Offutt. "We designed and renovated the entire restaurant with that drink in mind, from ordering special ice machines for all the crushed ice to installing an extra walk in space for all the whole fruit."
Most (yet not all) Baltimore bars that offer crushes use fresh juice in their cocktails. But what makes Ryleigh's crush stand out is simple: They let the natural flavors — rather than syrupy fillers — take over the drink. The key here is in the generous amount of fresh citrus that goes into each one. While I've watched stingier bartenders juice half an orange before my eyes, Ryleigh's gives you the entire serving. "crushed to order," as their bartenders like to say. And speaking of crushed, there's just … something about the way the ice is perfectly, frothily chipped up that pushes it to the top of the race for the best. Who knew frozen water made a difference?
The great thing about any orange crush is that it's a "Baltimore thing," a fun novelty to introduce any out-of-towner to, no matter the bar. But if you want to impress your guests, then really mean it and take them to Ryleigh's. They're guaranteed to have enough fresh fruit to provide an entire suburb's worth of vitamin C.
How to Make The Orange Crush
2 oz. Smirnoff Orange Vodka
1 oz. triple sec
Juice of 1 whole orange
splash of Sprite
Served in a pint glass, over crushed ice, with an orange slice.
Where to Get The Orange Crush
22 W. Padonia Road, Timonium
$8Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun