Fresh Picked: Local Chefs Have Some Nice Melons

Swirled in yogurt, shaken in cocktails, and strained into soup, refreshing summer melons are everywhere.

What becomes a melon most? As I learned this week, there’s no one answer. With July finally upon us, cantaloupe, honeydew, and especially beloved watermelon are all enjoying the summertime spotlight at local food establishments. This week saw checking out melon-infused drinks, dishes, and sweets as I traveled to the bar at South End’s Toro, the kitchen of Sel de la Terre Back Bay, and finally to that sparkling glass counter at Newbury Street’s BerryLine.

Andy McNees, left; La Borracha (watermelon puree, grapefruit juice, blanco tequila, lemon, simple syrup, basil) at right. All photos by Bernie Leed.

The upside to the always-long wait at Toro is the always spot-on cocktail options to enjoy before the hostess calls your name, and bar manager Andy McNees sees to it that his cocktail menu changes often with the season. That’s why you’ll now find many patient patrons passing time with the La Borracha, a mix of watermelon, grapefruit, basil, and tequila. La Borracha (which translates from Spanish to “drunk girl”) is at once refreshing and—with the help of some sea salt—a little bit savory. The cocktail will remain at Toro through the end of summer, cooling down diners between bites of paella on the patio.

Justin Urso assembles the soup at left; right, the finished product.

When it comes to making summertime-appropriate soups, Sel de la Terre chef de cuisine Justin Urso favors cold varieties. As a result, he’s been serving a chilled honeydew soup designed to be refreshing after a day in the heat. But it wasn’t honeydew that first drove the dish, rather a special herb from the restaurant’s Essex farm. “It’s another way we found to use some stuff from the farm, like the anise hyssop. That’s really where the idea for the dish came from, with the use of that herb throughout the soup,” Urso says. Steeped in yogurt, the ever-so-gently bitter anise hyssop cuts some sweetness from the melon, as do additions of onions and sherry vinegar. You can order the soup a la carte, where it’s sweetly topped with balled cantaloupe, or with the restuarant’s tasting menu, where it’s poured tableside atop a soft shell crab.

Cucumber-watermelon yogurt from BerryLine, no soap in sight.

At the Newbury Street outpost of BerryLine, watermelon gets the froyo treatment courtesy of the yogurt shop’s cucumber-melon flavor—recognize that comibination? BerryLine staffer (and creator of the flavor) Min-Young Huang admits to an unusual source for the pairing: “Bath & Body Works,” she says. “My inspiration was soap.” Luckily, however, the yogurt is sweet, tart, and refreshing, with tiny cooling bits of cucumber for crunch. Looks like Bath & Body Works may not be such a poor flavor template after all.

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