There's just a nice ring to the phrase "Ultimate Miami." a realization Magic City Casino exec Scott Savin and his crew came to earlier this year. This past Saturday Savin & Co. put it to the test with the Inaugural Ultimate Miami Bartender competition at the Flagler Street location. After four heated rounds of competition, Isaac Grillo of Lincoln Road's Haven took home the crown and a $5,000 first-place prize. The winning drink was vodka based with mandatory "secret" ingredients peppermint and chocolate syrup, in addition to club soda, sugar and ginger.
The best bartenders in the city put their hats in the ring, with the following eight finalists selected to compete for the coveted crown.
1. Isaac Grillo of Haven
2. Roger Moreno of Club Euforia
3. Robert Ferrara of the Dutch
4. Jeff Fralich of Hookah
5. Leslie Fickling of Chalk Ping Pong Billiards and Lounge
6. Danny Siegel of Sandbar
7. Daniela Baldacci of the Coconut Grove Sailing Club
8. Jade Hope of the Catalina Hotel and Beach Club
Bartenders were charged with using a secret ingredient and were given four minutes to make three drinks, one for each of the judges. Secret ingredients ranged from cinnamon to peppermint in the final round. Attendees filled up nearly every table at Stage 305, Magic City's performance venue. Tickets, which cost $40, included a free drink.
Most in the crowd enjoyed watching the talented bartenders concoct delicious beverages. Organizers were pleased with the event's outcome, but acknowledged it was a learning experience. "It was a great turnout and the crowd really got into it," said production assistant Nataly Valera. "We're definitely looking forward to more Ultimate Miami events and improving the best bartender competition next year."
The event was hosted by the gorgeous Nicki Zamora and the judges included Miami personality Elaine Lancaster, WeAr Global magazine editor Aurora Rodriguez, and WIOD radio personality Manny Munoz. Lancaster was Grillo's biggest supporter; she was impressed with his subtle use of the powerful peppermint flavor.
"I had to convince the other judges," Lancaster told Short Order following the two-hour long competition. "They agreed that peppermint was a very powerful flavor and that (Grillo's) used just the right amount.
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Grillo, whose "Fever" jalapeno drink was featured in our Top 10 Spiciest Dishes, merely bathed the ice in peppermint to minimize the spice's powerful flavor. The veteran bartender seemed to know exactly how much secret ingredient to use for each drink.
"It's all about balance," Grillo said. "Too little and you're not taking advantage of the secret ingredient. Too much and the flavor can be overpowering."
Grillo was thrilled with the $5,000 prize, which puts him that much closer to his dream of opening his own bar in Miami.