A great bite of baklava sticks with you. Literally. Shards of the dessert’s flaky phyllo dough will cling to one’s lips like a small child to a skirt hem. It’s also tethered to nostalgia for millions. Those who draw lineage from Turkey or Syria, from the Greek isles, Israel, Lebanon, or a Kurdish territory—many of them celebrate with baklava.
While the pastry’s true origins are up for debate (most point to Persia and the ninth century), its packability is not. As borders changed and wars raged, as people moved for love or for money, the recipe was easily carried in hearts and repeated by rote: simple layers of phyllo and butter, with a balance of sweet, gooey honey and the crunch of roasted, salty nuts.
With centuries of history behind it, a new version of baklava is worth raising a glass to. And, this time, raising that glass is all you have to do, thanks to the Perfect Baklava Manhattan now being served at Sadie’s, a Nashville restaurant in the Edgehill neighborhood that opened this past December.
“The main thing with a baklava is to not make it too sweet,” says Howard Greenstone, the CEO of Sadie’s who is also behind Nashville restaurants such as Adele’s, Emmy Squared, and the 404 Kitchen, among others. “Sugar shouldn’t be your first taste, but those notes of pistachio and butter.” Greenstone grew up in a large Jewish family outside of New York City, and recalls a childhood filled with baklava. “We wanted to celebrate that Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cuisines are tied to one another in our menu at Sadie’s,” he explains. “To shine a light on dishes people would expect, like a great lamb shank, but also bring in some more rustic, authentic flavors through fun, approachable dishes, like grilled halloumi. On the dessert menu, we do a classic pistachio baklava, with lemon, crushed nuts, and butter. The twist is, it’s served warm, with hot honey.”
The classic also inspired the Perfect Baklava Manhattan. Trudy Thomas, the corporate beverage director, pored over cookbooks from Turkey and Greece, inundating herself with variations on the recipe. Then she reached for a bottle of Maker’s Mark. The bourbon, she found, made with winter wheat, mimics the taste of toasty phyllo dough. The classic Manhattan therefore provided a simple, elegant framework. “From this research, I identified flavors I wanted to incorporate,” she says. “Nuttiness, spice, vanilla, phyllo characteristics, and a soft sweetness, without being too overpowering. I got the nuttiness from using both Skrewball Peanut Butter Whiskey and the chocolate walnut bitters from Bitter Queens.”