Bartender Brian Byrnes visits his local farmers market about as much as the average chef does. Every Thursday, Byrnes, who is the bartender at the new San Fernando bar in Glendale, is in South Pasadena, where El Centro Street meets Meridian Avenue, strolling the produce stalls looking for ingredients for his cocktails. It’s a habit Byrnes picked up from reading “Eat Your Drink,” bartender Matthew Biancaniello’s cookbook. Biancaniello, who has consulted on bar programs all over town, is known for lacing his concoctions with foraged ingredients and whatever is in season.
“Matthew is a big influence on me,” said Byrnes, who was a host at the Laugh Factory and a catering company manager before he got behind the bar. “I’m just immersing myself in these ingredients and messing with stuff to figure it out.”
The result of one of Byrnes’ latest experiments: the Strawberry W.C. Fields cocktail, now on the menu at the San Fernando. The bar is in the space formerly occupied by Big Fish, on an industrial stretch of the street not too far from Golden Road Brewing. The drink is named after W.C. Fields because an early version of the drink’s garnish — a maraschino cherry in a strawberry — reminded Byrnes of the late comedian’s nose.
Byrnes makes his own strawberry purée with fruit from the farmers market and mixes it with Templeton rye, fresh lemon juice, Leonardo e Roberto’s Gourmet Blends black cherry balsamic vinegar (also from a stand at the South Pasadena farmers market) and a couple dashes of cherry bitters.
The 2 ounces of rye give the cocktail a good punch, but there’s a distinct freshness from the sweet strawberries and the lemon. The drink also has a super-luscious texture that coats both the glass and your mouth, and an added depth of flavor from the balsamic vinegar. The cherry bitters accent the fruit in the balsamic, ensuring that you taste a hint of cherry as the drink goes down.
It’s fruity, not sweet, so if you usually steer clear of sugary drinks, you’re safe with this one. The drink is served over a single sphere of ice — a nod to both Byrnes’ and Fields’ love of juggling.