Back when I was an intemperate whelp with an hilariously unconvincing fake ID, I used to tempt fate at a tiny dive in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, called Chief’s Cafe. They were long misspent nights among thugs, punks, drunks, skanks, addicts, geezers, freaks, and a few out-of-depth geeks like myself, pulling on Iron City pounders and occasionally (when someone felt like celebrating) tossing down 25-cent cherry bomb toasts. I’m lucky to be alive and still sighted (albeit imperfectly), after downing so many of those plastic shot glasses filled with four candy-apple-red maraschino cherries, swollen with sweetly vile, corrosive rotgut.
Being older and arguably wiser, I’m besotted with the booze-soaked cherries at the Matchbox, which are standard in the bar’s wonderful manhattans. I always assumed these boozy sweethearts–small, dark, slightly tart, and with a convincing natural tensility–were made in-house until owner David Gevercer set me straight. They are, in fact, griottines, produced by Les Grandes Distilleries Peureux, makers of fine French eau de vie and liqueurs.
Sour cherries are lumped into two groups. There are the lighter, clear juiced amarelles (in Italy they’re known as amarene and are employed to great effect at Pasticceria Natalina). Griottes, on the other hand, are dark red or black varieties with darker juice. Peureux harvests the popular Morello griottes in the Balkans, then macerates and soaks them in liqueur on-site before shipping them back to France. In Fougerolles, they’re sorted, pitted, and again steeped in a series of different liqueurs, ultimately kirsch. You can read a more detailed description, and find a bunch of recipes here.
Bars like the Violet Hour and Weegee’s make their own fine drunken cherries, but as far as I know the Matchbox is the only place where you can take a jar of the French ones home. Gevercer imports them in 3 liter containers, and about three years ago, started selling them in eight-ounce canning jars for $4.50 apiece–they’re particularly popular at Christmastime. Thanks to the increasingly devalued dollar, they now go for $10, but compared to official online sources that’s a steal. Amazon sells an 11.8 ounce jar for almost 25 bucks.
The Matchbox, 770 N. Milwaukee, 312-666-9292