He’s quick to tell you he’s no expert. But with more than a decade of experience covering the food and beverage scene in Philadelphia, and a new book to boot, it’s hard to call Drew Lazor, who grew up in Bel Air, anything other than that.
Need to know which chef has worked where? Ask him. He’ll know. What about a recommendation for great international cuisine? He’s got you covered.
The 34-year-old Lazor has been a fixture on the Philadelphia food scene since interning for the now-defunct City Paper while a student at LaSalle University in 2005. He was hired upon graduation the following year. Since then, he’s worked as a freelancer for the Philadelphia Inquirer, Philadelphia Magazine, Vice, Taste, Punch and Saveur — eating and drinking his way through the City of Brotherly Love. He has been married to Michelle Flisek, whom he met in college, for three years.
We recently talked to Lazor about growing up in Harford County, where he attended the John Carroll School; his ascent in the food and beverage scene in Philadelphia; and his recently published book, “Session Cocktails,” which is about low-alcohol cocktails.
What was it like growing up in Harford County? (laughs) Interesting. I feel as though I have a lot more perspective on it now that I’m a little older and I have moved to a place that is much different than Harford County based on — you know what’s going on and people who live there. There really weren’t that many people of color growing up. My mom is from the Philippines. My sister and I are of mixed background. Our entire lives we’ve always been getting the whole, “Oh, what are you?” I think it’s a bit more diverse now. But growing up it was largely white. It was definitely a little different. Other than that it was a pretty suburban upbringing.
What was the food scene like there growing up? We didn’t really go out to eat all that often. Both of my parents are pretty avid home cooks. Since they are from different backgrounds, it was a super different dish or cuisine for most meals.
What’s on your list of must-eats when you come back to Harford County? Fortunato’s for sure. I always would go to C.R. Wings in Bel Air. It’s nothing fancy. But that has a lot of nostalgic memories for me. I would go there with friends throughout high school. Box Hill Pizzeria for crab cakes. And Uncle's Hawaiian Grindz in Fallston.
What is the story behind your new book? “Session Cocktails” is a collaboration between me and the editors at Punch, which is a Brooklyn-based online magazine that is all about drinking and drinking culture. I’ve been writing for them since 2014. And I have an awesome relationship with them. ... They really identified session cocktails, which are drinks that are lower in overall alcohol content, but you are not sacrificing creativity. You are not sacrificing flavor. They are built in a way that makes them easy to drink and easy to drink more of.
There are 60-plus great recipes in there from bartenders from around the country — the world. The criteria they followed was none of the recipes in the book have more than three-quarter of an ounce of a strong spirit. That’s rum, whiskey, tequila, gin. Anything that is of a higher proof. The rest of the drink is built around lower-proof alternatives. So stuff like sherry, vermouth, liqueurs — stuff that still has great flavor and is very unique and allows bartenders to flex their muscles creatively. At the end of the day, the alcohol content is still much lower — meaning that you can really explore the category more prolifically without getting knocked on your butt after two drinks.