I had my first experience with Romana Black Sambuca liquor while working pre-opening as the director of marketing for golfer Greg Norman and chef Todd English at their concept restaurant in Myrtle Beach when Todd English himself was still new and not-so-celebrity. It was the chef’s (Dave) favorite after work drink- Black.
I’m not a fan of Sambuca’s clear sibling, but oh, the dark one. Most people have not heard of Black, and it’s only behind the bar of finer dining establishments. With my first sip, I was in love with a flavor and sensation I had not experienced anywhere else- or so I thought. It’s not something I enjoy drinking quickly, like chef Dave did as shots- but for me, it’s much like sipping a perfect latté- a desert treasure for the palate with each lick of my lips. (excuse me while I go fix a glass)
Even now, at midnight – missing my husband away on business- alone on the balcony listening to the waves, the thick, syrupy texture transports me to a moment of silence, reflection and thanks. Rocks glass with one piece of ice.
Swirl. Smell. Sip. Savor. Mmmmm. Chill.
In 2004, we literally sold everything we owned to spend a year abroad in Europe. We lost most of what we had shortly after arriving (that’s another story.) Savoring everything took on a whole new meaning, and after months of traveling, we spent a day in Rome (the production home of Romana Sambuca) and I found a bottle for only ten Euros. Luis and I created a new meaning of savor as we extended the life of the half litre bottle to nearly three months. But, during that time of savoring, I realized why I loved Black Sambuca. Its flavor has the ability to transport me back to my childhood through this “adult beverage” (as we call alcohol in our home.) While we don’t drink to excess or drunkenness anymore, thank God, anything that can cause us to be childlike at heart in my opinion is a good thing.
I was probably eight years old and my brother four. We’d run in to our grandparent’s house and be barked at, licked and jumped on by Snoopy the poodle and give Bompa a quick and not-to-tight hug. He was not the affectionate type- but boy, was he cool! Looking back- a regular James Dean. I’d hold my palm open for a piece of black licorice. Unfailingly, it was always sitting in a large glass screw- top mason jar next to his recliner alongside the smokes. This intense anise candy wasn’t consumed around my house- my mom didn’t like it. And quite frankly, I could do without the sticky mess on my teeth.
Bompa rode a cool Honda cruising motorcycle, smoked a pipe, a cigar, a cigarette, and probably anything else he could smoke. His wrinkled and gray haired forearms that didn’t hug too often covered faded black military tattoos. But he had a great chuckle, a big smile and always plenty of love to go around in the form of black licorice. I guess that’s how he knew to dish out love. He died pretty young and suddenly and I never did get enough of riding on the back of that motorcycle. Or of that black licorice.
This flavor and the memories attached to it were bottled up for many years, until that summer at the Grill. And, I’m still amazed how real yesterday feels when I have a glass. It leaves me excited for tomorrows if they can be that real for years, too with something as simple as a cordial.
Now, my boys call my dad bompa. Maybe one day, I’ll invite him to a glass of Black and see if he feels like a kid again. And, maybe I’ll tell you what reminds me of my other grandpa too. And, while I’m at it, I think I’ll share this with my grandma.
What reminds you of your grandpa? What do flavors unlock for you? I’d love to hear…
Until then, stop. Sip. Savor. Salud.