New Orleans, LA –
There's no doubt that gelato is the hot new trend when it comes to frozen desserts, and the Italian-style ice cream has been gaining quick momentum here in New Orleans.
One block of Magazine Street now has dueling gelato counters just doors apart: La Divina Gelateria and Sucre, the upscale dessert emporium. La Divina Gelateria has even expanded, opening a second shop near Jackson Square last year and, just recently, a third in the Riverbend area.
Not far away on Oak Street, Gelato Pazzo Caffe puts out its own traditional Italian flavors, and gelato counters are a fixture at the Kupcake Factory, a local bakery that has quickly grown to three locations. There's Gaspare's gelato parlor in Metairie and, in Lakeview, Nick's Snoball stand even has an array of gelato next to its more familiar New Orleans summertime treat of syrup-soaked shaved ice.
Gelato actually does have a long history in New Orleans, though it's one that has been hiding in plain daylight for generations. More on that in a moment.
What this newly visible gelato trend adds up to - besides terrible new temptation for dieters and the calorie conscious -- is a renaissance of the sweet, frozen arts. And it's one that lines up well with the heightened public attention to what goes into our food and how it's produced.
Gelato tends to be more expensive than standard American ice cream, but it's also made using a different process that -- at its best - represents an artisanal approach to dessert. One key difference is that gelato has less air beaten into it than your typical half gallon of supermarket ice cream. That makes it more dense. Gelato also uses more eggs and less cream, reducing the final fat content, and gelato stays firm at a higher temperature. That means it won't freeze out your taste buds as quickly as ice cream.
That's good, because the flavors at play here tend to be quite distinctive. Many gelato makers pride themselves on using local and seasonal ingredients, including fruits and milk from local producers. These go into flavors so diverse and creative as to make standard Rocky Road seem like a flat track.
At La Divina Gelateria, for instance, one can get a scoop of Louisiana mush melon, or bourbon pecan, or pear walnut gorgonzola.
By comparison, the flavors at other shops tend to be more straightforward. One day's selection at Gelato Pazzo might include blood orange or mellow, creamy pistachio the color of kitchen appliances from the '70s.
But for all the new interest in gelato, it's worth remembering that New Orleans is home to one family-run business that has been a standard bearer for Italian-style ice cream for more than a century -- Angelo Brocato's in Mid-City.
Third generation owner Arthur Brocato explains that the Italian term gelato and its English equivalent, ice cream, have been used interchangeably for his family recipes for much of the shop's history. When his grandfather began making the stuff at Brocato's original French Quarter location in 1905, it was called gelato. But when health inspectors began making the rounds in the 1930s, gelato just wasn't a term in their vocabulary, so the product was labeled ice cream.
So it turns out New Orleanians have been eating gelato for a long time. Maybe that's why today we seem so good at it.
Angelo Brocato Ice Cream and Confectionary
214 N. Carrollton Ave., New Orleans, 504-486-1465
4421 Clearview Pkwy., Metairie, 504-267-5552
Gelato Pazzo Caffe
8115 Oak St., New Orleans, 504-304-6908
841 Fulton St., New Orleans, 504-464-8884
6233 S. Claiborne Ave., New Orleans, 504-464-8884
910 W Esplanade Ave., Kenner, 504-464-8884