In Atlanta, the serviceberry shrubs and trees growing along the city’s busiest thoroughfares often go unnoticed by cars and cyclists whirring past. When urban forager Robby Astrove sees their showy white blossoms in late March, though, he knows that good days are imminent. “It’s that beautiful reminder that spring is here, and just that time of transformation coming out from the hard, cold, dark winter,” says Astrove, who searches public spaces for herbs, fruit, and flowers and sells his findings to local chefs and bartenders. When the edible berries arrive in June, they entice with their red-purple hue and feature notes of blueberry, cherry, and almond. And while not commercially distributed, they’ve found a fanbase among Astrove’s clientele.
Astrove thinks the berries are due for their moment, and celebrates them at the Serviceberry Festival, which he founded with his partner, Jessica Pfeffer. The second annual event will take place Thursday, June 2, in East Atlanta, and will feature chefs such as Claudia Martinez of Miller Union and the bartender Tiffanie Barriere, who will incorporate the berry into dishes and drinks.
You don’t have to attend the festival, though, to enjoy the berry’s earthy sweetness. Terry Koval, the chef-owner of the Deer and the Dove in downtown Decatur, preserves serviceberries in the summer so his team can use them year-round. Astrove first brought Koval a bushel of them before the restaurant’s opening in 2019, and Koval was instantly smitten with their unique flavor and versatility. “I literally have bought close to a thousand dollars’ worth of serviceberries every year,” Koval says with a laugh. “My whole entire staff hates me. It takes almost a week and a half to clean all of them.” The restaurant uses them in savory dishes, but the berries shine in the restaurant’s staple cocktail, Something Genteel.
The cocktail offers a sense of place—serviceberries are native to the United States but grow particularly well in the Southeast—and allows sippers to have a taste of summer any time of year. “That’s what I like about preserving stuff,” Koval says. “You can have something that you’re passionate about and enjoy it in the winter.”
The restaurant’s opening bar manager, Jason Kemp, concocted the showstopping drink, which features a dusky red tint from a serviceberry simple syrup. Akin to a gimlet, it’s made with gin, honeysuckle vodka, and lemon juice. “Just the freshness, that earthy note of the serviceberries with the brightness of the citrus, makes it really drinkable, refreshing,” says Matt Watkins, the restaurant’s current bar manager, who has implemented his own tweak. “It just goes down really easy.”
Serviceberries are also known as juneberries, as June is the month when they often ripen. But if you can’t get your hands on serviceberries to craft the cocktail at home, you can use blueberries instead.