The first time I visited my relatives in Reggio di Calabria, my cousins Angela and Nino, then in their late 60s, whisked me away from the train station and headed straight for a gelateria. That’s right; we didn’t stop to drop off my luggage at the house and we didn’t stop to say hello to the rest of the family. We went directly to eat gelato – do not pass go, do not collect $200.
Do my cousins have their priorities straight, or what?
What better way to be introduced to the city of my grandparents’ birth (well, near enough to the actual place) than with a walk along its elegant paved promenade, looking out over the Strait of Messina to Sicily, while eating gobs of creamy, rich Italian ice cream. Trust me, there is no better way.
As I had made my way down to Reggio via Rome and Naples, I had already tasted my first orgasmic spoonfuls of gelato (and then some). But the way it was served to me in Reggio was different. We went to Gelateria Cesare, a round green kiosk in Piazza Indipendenza, near the promenade. My cousin Nino ordered for me as my Italian was close to nil. To say I was surprised by what was handed to me would be an understatement. Startled may be more accurate. It wasn’t a dish of gelato. It wasn’t a cone, either. It was a brioche roll the size of my hand split open and stuffed with fragola (strawberry) gelato and a billowed crown of whipped cream.
Whoever decided to pair fluffy, buttery bread with ice cream should have had their head examined.
Listen, I like a good waffle sandwich as much as anyone (that’s two Eggo waffles hot from the toaster with ice cream in between), but there’s a big difference between a crisp waffle and spongy bread. OK, maybe the frenetic concoction is tolerable when you first get the thing. But very quickly the bread begins to soak in the cream and the whole roll becomes a soggy mess. Who wants to eat creamy gelato with little bits of soggy bread stuck in it? If that was any good, you can be sure the Italians would have created a gelato flavor out of it. Lord knows they’ve made a flavor out of everything else (cantaloupe, chili-spiked chocolate, tiramisu...)
Gelati alle pane inzuppato: Soggy bread ice cream. Awesome.
Of course you don’t have to have your gelato that way in Reggio. You can get it in a cone or a dish as you can everywhere else in Italy. I think the cone is the best way to go. There's something about the contrast of crisp, lightly sweetened cone with velvety-rich, full-flavored ice cream that is unparalleled.
Gelateria Cesare has a great website. Although it’s in Italian, it has a lot of fun graphics as well as gorgeous up-close pictures of several different flavors. And you have to hand it to their marketing guy (who is probably the same guy scooping ice cream) – the website offers copious thought on the nutritional value of gelato. That’s right – value. They begin by reminding us that gelato is made from milk, which is rich in calcium and phosphorus – elements that growing children need. Good one.
Then they list a calorie comparison. My favorite, gelato alla nocciola (hazelnut gelato), comes in at 253 calories for just under a cup. (Paired with coffee gelato, it is a classic and heavenly combination I insist you try.) Hazelnut gelato turns out to be an excellent alternative to, say, 100 grams of toasted bread, which packs on 406 calories, according to Cesare. Hey, I hear you, gelato man. I always suspected hazelnut gelato was a healthy breakfast choice. You need explain no more. I’m converted.
By the way, this week I wrote a little blurb on an eight-day gelatocentric excursion for globorati, a sassy-cool site that gives the inside scoop on luxury travel. This tour may be the only way that you can suck down gelato from dawn to dusk and still recognize that person in the mirror. Check it out.
So I want to know: What’s your favorite gelato flavor? And have you found an outstanding gelateria – in Italy or elsewhere?
- The photograph above, by the way, is my lovely mother turned 16 again as she prepares to dive headfirst into a mega cone from Gelateria Snoopy in Cortona, Tuscany. With a name like that and stools that look like ice cream cones to boot, I was skeptical at first. But Snoopy serves fantastic gelato. Even the locals find it worthy enough to brave the gaggles of tourists that flock to this gelateria when they're finished reliving scenes from “Under the Tuscan Sun,” which was filmed here.
- To be fair to my mother, she did not eat the cone single-handedly. In fact it took the work of three to polish off this work of art. And we ate every last drop.