Newark has a new cocktail winner…Have you tried the Paco’s Passion from Casa d’Paco yet? You might recall my last article on All Points West Distillery and Drink Newark’s first cocktail challenge. What started as an idea of bringing alcohol beverage production back to Newark, the idea for a cocktail contest soon followed. Now knowing how it would be received, despite there being a rich history of alcohol production and consumption in this town, the founders wondered if interest would be limited to the wealthy suburbs, or the upscale Hudson County crowd. They took a chance. Insisting Newark’s spirits had a back story that needed to be shared, and thus, the Drink Newark Contest took flight.
I was asked to judge the cocktail challenge at Clement’s Place in Newark. 5 contestants made it into the final round. They included: Burger Bound’s Gin Tropical Peach, Nico’s Elderflower Royale, Mompou’s All Points West Fall Escape, The Station Bar and Bites at the Element Hotel’s Ferry St. Old Fashioned, and Casa d’Paco’s Paco’s Passion. Each place brought something to the table, but only one could be crowned the best of the best. After trying each cocktail, the choice was an obvious one for me: Paco’s Passion. It was sweet, well blended, and an awesome start to spring that perfectly represented Newark. I had the opportunity to speak with Angel Leston, founder of Casa d’Paco, to talk about their journey to becoming Newark’s cocktail challenge winner and their plans for the future:
Amanda-Kathryn: First of all, I should wish you congratulations! Tell me a little about Casa d’Paco
Angel Leston: Thank you. We opened about 4 years ago, we just made 4 years last month. It was an idea, that was inspired by my dad who was a chef around town. I always wanted to open up my own eatery complete with a bar, I kind of always had this vision. About 4 years, no maybe 5 years ago, a friend of mine used to own a little dive bar here called Happy Hour Cafe. He came to me with an idea since he was going into other business endeavors, and he wanted to give it to someone he could trust. He proposed the idea to me, and he gave me a good deal, and we took it on. deal, and we took it on. We came in here and for 3 months we renovated, me, my father, and my mother and another gentleman we knew, a contractor, and built it according to what I envisioned.
AK: Why did you pick Newark?
AL: Newark because it is where I was born, where I went to school, and where I grew up. I always had an affinity towards Newark so that’s where I always envisioned to have my own business.
AK: When the Drink Newark contest came into fruition, why did you choose to participate in it?
AL: So, this is a funny story. We didn’t even choose to participate, they kind of asked us to. We were kind of already doing a bunch of stuff and had a bunch of events going on. When it came up, I’ll be honest, I said no…it’s probably not for us, there’s a lot of good cocktail bars and we probably wouldn’t even stand a chance, cause there are a lot of places. Newark Happening actually came to us and said: ‘please, just join it will be fun.’ I’m like okay fine, we’ll give it a shot. So we designed the cocktail, Paco’s Passion, pretty much on the spot. We stayed here for one night, me and the bartender. We just started working on drinks and trying them, until we just landed on the recipe we currently have. We submitted it, it kind of started taking on a life of its own, and then we won.
AK: With the ingredients that you chose, did you have any specific reason why you chose them or were they just random?
AL: So what Newark Happening had told us, ‘try to make something that says something about your restaurant but also says something about your community too.’ That’s what we kept in mind. Of course we named it Paco’s Passion to symbolize the passion that this place has when it comes to the owners and our awesome staff. We then picked local ingredients that we buy here from Newark. We chose the ingredients in such an order that each one represents the whole immigrant community in Newark. For example we chose fresh passion fruit pulp, which is a Brazilian product, fresh passion fruit nectar which is a Portuguese product we buy locally, Bone Black Vodka from Newark distiller, All Points West Distillery, we even garnished raspberries and edible flowers that are purchased locally.
AK: When you got to Clement’s place for the contest, what was going through your mind?
AL: So I wasn’t really sure what to expect. We weren’t even sure who was judging until we got there. I wouldn’t say we weren’t a little bit nervous, but after we had a couple of Gin and Tonics at the bar we felt a little more comfortable. It was cool, we saw a lot of restaurant owners that we know from here. We got to speak to them, and it was a good vibe. The people were welcoming and very nice. I gave a little speech about Newark and the cocktail. I started out a little nervous, but at the end I feel like I started talking too much. We felt prepared. The bartender who designed the drink is a monster, he has 15 years mixology experience. I left it in his hands. I was going to be the talking and the marketing guy, and he killed it.
AK: How did it feel to win?
AL: Good! Very unexpected. Especially since we saw the other contestants do so many different components, like the guy with the flame. We ended up looking at each other like f*ck, but regardless we stood behind our drink. It has all the components, the history behind it we envisioned, and it tastes good.
AK: What would you pair the Paco’s Passion with?
AL: Paco’s Passion..It has both the sour aspect from the pulp, and the sweet aspect of it because of the nectar. It also has the kick because of the 100 proof vodka. I probably would pair it with the garlic shrimp cause it has that spicy kick to it, and it would level it out. Our Paco’s Slider, which is our burger, and even our meat and cheese platters or even our salads! We have a mango and shrimp salad with homemade mango dressing.
AK: What can we expect next from Casa d’Paco?
AL: So now we actually are creating a building a brand new cocktail menu for the summer. We never really focused on cocktails that much. We were more of a sangria, and we have a really good Spanish wine list as well as our own wine we’ve been pushing. We are working with a lot of different
things like moscato, local distillery products, and we’ve started using a lot of cordials and a lot liquors we’ve never worked with before and now have been messing around with. Our regular menu stays the same, we usually don’t plan by season. We plan by week since our specials change daily. We have 10-15 tapas featured, with a change every 1-2 days on the regular with fresh produce we buy locally daily
AK: Thank you for taking the time to sit with me, and congratulations again!
AL: Thank you. We are very humbled, and we are very thankful. We love how the community is so welcoming of us, and how much of a good reaction since we’ve been here
If you wish to try the Paco’s Passion, make your way down to Newark today! You won’t be disappointed, and pair it with the Mango Shrimp Salad. Also follow Casa d’Paco on Instagram and Facebook to stay up to date on their delicious menu and drinks updated on the regular. Thanks for sitting down with me Casa d’Paco! Until next time, cheers and happy eating to you all!