What happens when a local gelato parlor weaves sustainability into its flavors, its menu and its whole business model?
The flavors in the freezer case at the Uptown ice cream shop La Divina Gelateria pose a lot of questions, more than two dozen in fact. For instance, will it be the mouth-coating dulce de leche gelato or that tart lime sorbetto? To another way of thinking, though, La Divina poses a larger, overriding question, and it’s this: can visiting a gelato parlor be something more than an indulgence and instead end up feeling virtuous?
If you're into the now raging eat-local trend, the answer likely is yes, and arguments for the case pile up not just with La Divina gelato built from Louisiana-grown sugar and fruit. It also arrives on the savory side in the form of a pressed daube sandwich, its Italian-style pot roast sourced from grass-fed cows and dressed with kale and smoky, crushed tomatoes. Or it’s the mercato salad, a composition of rippling-fresh greens, feta cheese, snap peas that do audibly snap and zucchini strands sliced so thin you can twirl them like noodles on your fork.
La Divina Gelateria is one of 20 local restaurants officially participating in the Eat Local Challenge. That’s an annual happening that asks people to eat only foods produced within 200 miles of home for the whole month of June. As such, this month La Divina features a blueberry and basil sorbetto designed to meet the challenge criteria. Plenty of other flavors also qualify. But, more importantly, the year-round operation at La Divina fits the spirit of keeping things local and sustainable, even if it doesn’t always strictly meet the letter of Eat Local Challenge rules. For instance, if you’re making gelato with milk from Ryals Rocking R Dairy, a local farmers market favorite, and then adding French chocolate or Kentucky bourbon I say you’re still keeping the heavy lifting local.
Katrina and Carmelo Turillo first opened La Divina Gelateria in 2007 on a business model of traditional Italian gelato, local sourcing and green design (your go cups here are compostable, for example). From their Magazine Street flagship, in a smartly renovated gallery at the edge of the Garden District, they’ve expanded with a French Quarter location and shop on the Loyola University campus, and they now sell their gelato to restaurants around town and even at the snack bar at Uptown’s Prytania Theatre.
More recently they brought on a trained chef, Mia Calamia, to burnish the non-gelato side of things. That accounts for the small selection of baked goods. My tip: try the chocolate and sea salt shortbread, then smear some of the intense dark chocolate gelato on it. The salads are faithfully fresh, and the panini menu has some interesting ideas for pressed sandwiches. Meanwhile, the macaroni and cheese, oily and redolent of truffles, somehow seems more decadent than the gelato.
They make some strong Italian coffee drinks here, which provides a plausible excuse to drop by when La Divina opens at 7 in the morning for a little breakfast gelato. Making an erstwhile dessert your first meal of the day may tempt guilty feelings. But the way I look at it, the farmers behind these flavors got up pretty early to make it all happen and, well, we’re all in this sustainable thing together.
3005 Magazine St., New Orleans, 504-342-2634; 621 St. Peter St., New Orleans, 504-302-2692