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Sun., Nov. 23
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Tom and Jerry cocktails offer solution to frigid weather

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Walking down the Washington Street sidewalk in sub-20-degree weather gave Linda J. Holley and Debbie A. Cavallario a case of goose bumps at lunchtime Friday, but they soon found a cure.

When the friends reached their destination at Johnny D’s Restaurant inside the Paddock Arcade, a large sign with bold letters gripped their attention: “Enjoy a Fresh, Hot Tom and Jerry.”

“It was the first thing we ordered,” Ms. Holley said while sipping on the cocktail. The drink’s egg base is mixed with shots of Christian Brothers Brandy and Captain Morgan at Johnny D’s, then sprinkled with nutmeg. The ladies will also visit the Crystal Restaurant and Paddock Club this season for another round of the yule drinks.

For many north country residents, enjoying a Tom and Jerry is like decorating the Christmas tree. The cocktails have been served in Watertown since the 1940s at the Crystal, 87 Public Square, where the Dephtereos family has kept the tradition alive for three generations. The drink makes its debut on Black Friday and is served through New Year’s Day.

David P. Bartlett deftly mixed cocktails to serve a busy lunch crowd at Johnny D’s, which acquired its liquor license in October. He received the recipe from Christian S. Ives, executive chef at Bonnie Castle Manor in Alexandria Bay. The base for the drink is mixed with two dozen eggs, two cans of condensed milk and 2 pounds of confectioners’ sugar.

“It’s been busier than hell since we started serving them, and I haven’t even had five minutes of time for a break,” Mr. Bartlett said.

Mr. Bartlett — who touted the Crystal’s famous Tom and Jerry recipe — derided the notion of a cocktail competition.

“We’re complementing each other, and there’s plenty to go around,” he said. “Families and friends will usually make a round or two during the season.”

At about 4 p.m. Friday, groups of employees fleeing the workplace for the weekend began filling up the Crystal. One by one, a line at the small bar grew. Standing in line was Carthage resident Mark W. Wonderly, who ordered a round of cocktails for five friends. Waitresses ladled the drinks out of a black, gold-lettered “Tom & Jerry” bowl. Before the restaurant acquired the time-honored bowl in the 1940s, it was used at the old Hotel Woodruff on Public Square.

“Several of my friends haven’t had them before, so I had them come down specifically for Tom and Jerrys. The old-time atmosphere and family tradition” make it special, Mr. Wonderly said.

Sprinkled with cinnamon and served in lettered mugs, the Crystal’s brew has less alcohol than its rivals — half-shots of brandy and rum. Its egg-based recipe is a family secret that hasn’t been leaked to the public. Couple Peter J. and Libby S., the restaurant’s co-owners, always mix the base in private.

“If I gave out the recipe, they’d have to shoot me,” laughed Jeanie M. Campbell, a waitress for 16 years. “People go to other places to try Tom and Jerrys, but they come back here and say ours is the best. Anyone can make them, but we put a lot of tender, loving care into it. After a couple of these, some people will leave their coats here” because they’re so warm.

Thomas P. Lloyd, a circulating nurse at Samaritan Medical Center, is a regular at happy hour on Fridays.

“A Tom and Jerry is great every time I get done with a hard day of work,” he said, adding 10 co-workers were expected soon. “It gets so crowded that you can’t stand.”

Jefferson County legislators also get in on the fun. To cap off their final board meeting of the year in December, they walk from the Jefferson County Office Building on Arsenal Street to the Crystal, celebrating with a round of hot cocktails.

“We end the year by forgetting about whatever differences we’ve had throughout the past 12 months in the spirit of Christmas,” said Legislator Michael J. Docteur.

For the past six years, the Paddock Club has served its own Tom and Jerry recipe. Spiked with shots of Myers’s Rum and Christian Brothers Brandy, it’s served in a glass mug topped with cinnamon, nutmeg and Pirouette cookies.

“People love ’em, and our older customers come just for them,” said bartender James T. Trapiss.

And while a Tom and Jerry may be high in calories and alcohol, excuses are allowed during the holiday season, said Ms. Holley, who ordered a caesar salad at Johnny D’s.

“I think this,” she said, pointing to her salad, “justifies this” as she lifted her mug to take another small sip.

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