An Italian liqueur is tweaked by a South Philadelphian

Joan Verratti at Polyodd, the store she's opening on East Passyunk Avenue. She makes lime and orange flavors, as well as the traditional lemon.
Joan Verratti at Polyodd, the store she's opening on East Passyunk Avenue. She makes lime and orange flavors, as well as the traditional lemon. (TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer)
Posted: November 29, 2012

When Joan Verratti lost her son - her only child - "I lost my way in life," she said.

To cope, she threw herself into baking old-fashioned Italian cookies in her South Philadelphia home, giving everything away.

That led to a plan to open a bakery, but it fizzled.

In 2005, on a whim, she decided to make a batch of limoncello, the lemon liqueur that's an after-dinner staple in Italian cucinas.

"It needed tweaking," she said last week, puckering at the memory.

Too sour for her taste.

Subsequent batches went down the drain, too. But within two years, her limoncello had won approval from friends and family members - so much so, that her amateur baking went by the wayside.

She was steeping fruit peels in grain alcohol, adding sugar, and boiling the mixture to create new fruit flavors - lime, orange, in addition to lemon. She also devised a decadent chocolate 'cello.

Shortly, Verratti will begin selling her Pollyodd liqueurs, including a new line of refrigerated cream flavors, from a storefront at 1908 E. Passyunk Ave. in South Philadelphia. Pollyodd lemon and chocolate flavors are also sold in 32 state Wine & Spirits stores. The 750-ml bottles are priced at $23.99.

Make no mistake, folks. Pollyodd is not your nonno's limoncello. It's sweet, imparting only a hint of citrus pucker. While most limoncellos are about 32 percent alcohol, Pollyodd is 22 percent alcohol. It's a good mixer.

"This is limoncello for the American palate," said Verratti, 59, a bubbly, chatty native of Ninth and Christian who boasts that she could sell ice to Eskimos. (She even anglicizes the spelling to lemoncello.) She proudly bills herself as the country's first licensed female distiller since Prohibition. It took her several years to secure both a license from the state Liquor Control Board and a distilled-spirits permit from the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB). She and boyfriend Tom Cavaliere set up a plant in the Point Breeze neighborhood.

Under terms of their distillery license, they can open two retail stores. For their first shop, they chose the bustling East Passyunk strip, cautioning that this is a marketing outlet, not a bar. They will sell full bottles only - not shots.

The two put a goofy humor into their work world. The business is known as Naoj & Mot, their names backward. "Pollyodd" was Cavaliere's idea. "He first heard it from his father when he was a little boy," Verratti said. "He'd come down in the morning and want to play with him, and his father would [beg off] by saying to him, 'I got pollyodd last night' - a little drunk." Verratti said pollyodd also was an admonishment: "Someone might say, 'If you don't stop, I'll give you a pollyodd.' "

Inscribed on every label is a phrase that she translates as "From my hands to your heart."

"This is all made by hand," Verratti said. "I peel by hand, I scrub all the pots."

It's also not intended as her path to riches, she said, without divulging her investment. "I'm not looking to hit the big time," she said. "I'm happy enough to pay my bills." She also wants to fund a scholarship in the name of her son, Thomas J. Verratti III, who was 19 when he died in 1997.

"This is a labor of love," she said. "It's not about the money."


Contact Michael Klein at mklein@philly.com.

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