Since Matt Allen was a teenager, he “never really done anything else” outside of the restaurant industry. Over the years he honed his skills and now spearheads the cocktail program at The Sicilian Butcher.
We recently had the chance to chat with Allen and learn about his backstory. He’ll also share what is special about The Sicilian Butcher’s cocktail program and the cocktail he would like to feature.
Tell us about your career in the bar industry and how it led you to The Sicilian Butcher.
I have been in the restaurant industry since I was 16 — kind of here and there. I spent the majority of my career in management and then I was a general manager for a while and decided I just wanted to go some more fun. Once my wife got a good enough job that I could take a step backward and go to bartending, I did. I ended up making more money than I did as a manager, so that was nice. I bartended for a few years at the Westin Kierland Resort here in North Scottsdale. Eventually, I kind of pitched myself to take over and develop their cocktail program as a whole, and that kind of put me on the map as a “mixologist.” I’ve been around the Valley for a bit — down in Chandler, the Brickyard and Hidden House. Then I was on my way up to the Maggiore Group.
What was the inspiration behind the cocktail program at The Sicilian Butcher?
Specifically with The Sicilian Butcher, the central concept is that it is Italian-Sicilian. Everything I have done maintains high standards that we have for the food in our Italian-themed restaurants. Even if I have a drink with, say, bourbon in it, it has some Italian twist to it. Everything has got at least one Italian ingredient, if not multiple. Some are variations on classic Italian drinks; some are completely new and with just an Italian twist to them. I’ve tried to develop everything to be very food friendly, because that is first and foremost the reason that people come here, to eat our great food.
While a bartender, what was the oddest ingredient you ever used in a cocktail?
I would say duck fat. I did a lot of experimentation, and a few years back I was able to get my hands on a bunch of duck fat, and so I used that for a duck fat washed cognac to make a very cool variation of a vieux carré for an event.
What was your favorite memory working behind a bar?
I’m not really sure. I just know that there have been a lot of great times working with great people. You meet the whole array of great clientele. Customers, whether they are in for the first time or whether they know exactly what they want or whether they are just looking for an experience. That is probably the most fun, is when somebody just wants to check out everything that you have to offer and they’ll let you kind of run the show for them. Nothing specific, unfortunately. I have a lot of bad memories.
What is one of your worst memories working behind the bar?
A couple of guests broke out into a fight, like an actual brawl, right in front of me at a restaurant that shouldn’t have had that kind of event happen. It was a bit strange. I didn’t really know how to react to that one except for, like, “Help! Somebody stop this! Oh, right, me. I should be the one stopping that.” As my friend used to say, “I need a grown-up.”
What is your favorite drink when you are not working?
It depends on where I am. People ask me quite often when I’m at the bar, saying, “You must go home and make some amazing drinks for yourself. What do you like to drink? What do you make at home?” I hold up an empty glass and I hold up a bottle of bourbon and I say, “Glass. Bottle. Pour. The end.” No gourmet chef wants to go home and cook for himself after a long day. It’s the same thing with bartenders. If I am out and about and if someplace has a good cocktail menu, I don’t have any spirits that I am averse to. I will happily try things that look interesting, and if I love the place I will go right down the list and see what they have to offer. If it’s a place that doesn’t have a menu or it seems a little more dive bar-esque, then it’s just a safe bet to go for beer. Beer and bourbon. Buffalo Trace is my go-to bourbon; I usually polish off a bottle of that every week or two. And beer I go back and forth between Blue Moon and 805. I’m not one of those big IPA guys, which is ironic because I love bitter but I don’t like IPAs. Something light and easy drinking is good for me.
What’s the best piece of advice for someone looking to get into the industry?
I think that this is one of those business industries where it is not something that can be 100% taught by other people. It’s not an on-the-job learning. You have to come in with some knowledge. You have to make the effort to kind of learn on your own. Some of the best bartenders/mixologists who I have known are kind of self-taught, or at least that is how they got started and then they were able to pair up with other people — myself included. To get into this business, start reading, start educating yourself so when you walk into a place, you can exhibit yourself as a professional and not a rookie just waiting for somebody to teach them what to do.
What does ordering a vodka tonic say about a person?
I would say it’s safe, I guess. I like it better than the vodka soda, which is a very flavorless drink, all in all. At least with the tonic you have some sort of element with bitterness and some citrus going on there. But if that is somebody’s go-to drink, then that is great. It’s what they know. If that’s what they enjoy, there is no fault in that. I always joke that if you have regulars, they are not predictable — they are reliable. You know what they are going to drink. There’s nothing wrong with that drink. I would personally want something with a little bit more flavor, but you can’t fault people for liking what they like.
What cocktail would you like us to feature?
Amalfi Spritz, $12
What do you like about this drink?
It’s a great summertime drink. It’s light, a little fruity. It’s got those effervescence bubbles. There are a couple of Italian tie in twists to the drink. We have an Italian prosecco, an Italian elderflower liqueur. Bleu Curacao just to give it a little bit of orange flavor and this bright copper blue color of the drink — that visually appealing sense. Then it is balanced out with a little bit of pear liqueur and dry vermouth and topped off with tonic.
2 ounces prosecco
1 ounce Fiorente Elderflower Liqueur
1/2 ounce Rothman and Winter Orchard Pear Liqueur
1/2 ounce Combier Bleu Curacao
3 ounces Fever Tree Mediterranean Tonic Water
Fill a large wine glass with ice
Pour prosecco over the ice
Add Fiorente Elderflower Liqueur, Rothman and Winter Orchard Pear Liqueur and Combier Bleu Curacao, then top with 3 oz. Fever Tree Mediterranean Tonic Water
Garnish with fresh thyme sprigs and half an orange wheel