Jeff Michaud gained much more than an Italian wife when he married Claudia Cagnoni, whom he met while cooking at a restaurant in Bergamo in Northern Italy. He acquired an entire series of family digestivi recipes, along with a mother-in-law, Pina Carrara, who knows how to make them. Carrara, who’s become familiar to many Osteria fans for participating in Michaud’s culinary events during her visits to Philadelphia, was perhaps best known for the limoncello she’d steep from lemons that a boyfriend would bring her from the Amalfi Coast.
At Michaud’s new place off Rittenhouse Square, Via Locusta, a half dozen other flavors of Mamma Pina’s digestivi are on offer, from star anise (a take on Sambuca) to espresso, a citrus-saffron flavor called Rosolio, and creamy Zabaione. Perhaps the most distinctive, though, is the Allorino, an intensely herbal brew made from bay leaves from a tree in Carrara’s yard in Bergamo. The cordial, infused into grain alcohol sweetened with sugar and cut by water, rings in around 40%-alcohol once it’s shaken over a diluting scoop of ice and is then strained fully chilled as a soothing finish to a hearty meal. But these digestivi also play well as ingredients, poured over a scoop of olive oil-bay leaf gelato for a garden-powered affogato dessert, or blended into cocktails like VL’s take on the Last Word, a refreshing pro-prohibition gin drink made with Green Chartreuse, a touch of maraschino liqueur, lime juice, and mint, which accentuates the herbal character of the Allorino.
It’s delicious and distinctive. But does it really help digestion?
“Yes, it does,” says Michaud, “because my mother-in-law tells me so.”
— Craig LaBan
Mamma Pina’s cordials, $12, Via Locusta, 1723 Locust St., 215-642-0020; vialocusta.com