Raised in Clinton Township, 27-year-old Ricky Ruggero now lives in Hamtramck, down the street from Rock City Eatery, where he works as bartender. The hip eating and drinking establishment has become known for its funky, relaxed interior, its mismatched chairs, its upscale dishes, and its affordable, creative cocktails.
Ruggero has worked in restaurants since he was 16, including a long stretch at B.D.'s Mongolian Grill. Then, a few years ago, he dove into the world of bartending, just as the quest for quality cocktails was reaching a fever pitch in our area. He tended bar at P.F. Chang's for a year-and-a-half, apprenticing under his mentor Shawn Stanton. Ruggero learned best practices, such as hand-squeezing juices daily, and keeping a bar stocked with excellent ingredients to ensure quality drinks.
"That's where I got the bulk of my experience. It was a huge bar, a huge workload there. That really was like a boot camp for bartending. You had a lot to worry about there, between carryout business, making drinks for the whole restaurant, and you have a 30-top rail? It was, like, insane work," he says.
Stanton has been hoping to tend bar for Rock City Eatery, but when an out-of-town opportunity came knocking, he had to split, but knew Ruggero was well-prepared for the gig. When he started at Rock City last year, Ruggero helped design a menu of tasty craft cocktails at affordable prices. "I think that's what separates us from other places. We're not putting a big price tag on it, but these are solid, really creative craft cocktails that you won't find anywhere else," Ruggero says.
Among his innovative creations is the cucumber margarita, which balances the coolness of cucumber, the tart of lime, and the sweetness of agave, all on top of the bite of tequila. It's a popular drink as refreshing as it looks.
Drink recipe: Cucumber Margarita
2 ounces Cabresto Silver tequila
1.5 ounces fresh lime juice
1 ounce blue agave
one handful julienned cucumber
Muddle cucumbers in tequila. Ruggero says to "beat them up" to work the flavors in so they compete with the lime. Combine all ingredients with ice and shake in a cocktail shaker. Strain into a cylindrical "bucket" glass (slightly larger than an old-fashioned glass), and salt half the rim to give drinkers the choice.