Our expert offers his advice about cold treats for summer (or winter—for Corby, gelato is a year-round food group). But you might be better off with regular ice cream.
Q. A reader in New York City asks: It's summer. Where do I get good gelato? Every season is gelato season, as we here in New England, which has traditionally had the highest per-capita year-round consumption of ice cream, know. But as for good gelato in New York: I want to know the same thing! I just came from a modest gelato crawl in Manhattan, with particularly high hopes for a new cafe, and came away with the same sense of vague disappointment and wondering, Where am I missing? Where's the good gelato?
The new place was Stellina, on the Lower East Side, which an enthusiastic write-up by the esteemed Florence Fabricant at the end of February sent me down to find right away (I happened to be in the city the day it was published; as I said, for us midwinter is ideal gelato time). After the obligatory stop at the Essex Street Market, my favorite year-round covered market on the East Coast, I got to the door to find ... it was nowhere near open. The finished storefront and high white counters did look as sunny and attractive as the owners, Emma Hearst and Sarah Krathen, did in the Times picture. I longed for the promised gelato and biscotti.
I finally got my wish this week, after another stop at Essex Street for Laboratorio del Gelato, now in its tenth year, I note with surprise after looking at its website. I've always wished for more Italian-seeming gelato than what it offers, a paradoxical wish given that the founder, Jon F. Snyder, founded Ciao Bella, whose nationally distributed ice cream and gelato I've always found to be of reliably high quality (he sold the company in 1989, when he was 25). In interviews, Snyder says what a stickler he is for fresh ingredients, and though I've never doubted that, I've always found the texture of his gelato much closer to superpremium ice cream than gelato—that is, very rich and fairly solid, rather than light in fat (gelato uses only milk) and creamy. Even the fruit sorbets are solid ices, though the fruit is clearly fresh and seasonal. I always go in when, it goes without saying, when I'm near the original location, on Orchard Street, next to the always-worthwhile Tenement Museum.
Grom, you say? All those Slow Food-approved artisan ingredients, mixes shipped from Italy, clean and modern store design? I'm not a fan. Even in Italy, the texture is far too rich and dense, and true gelato-lovers regard it with puzzlement, as it it had been tainted by Haagen-Dazs aspirations. The dark-chocolate sorbet, though, is at least intensely chocolate-flavored, if thirst-inducing.
Better to go back to ice cream, and look for the yellow Van Leeuwen ice cream trucks, which make no apology for offering rich ice cream, and of course use local ingredients, or some. And better still to embrace the popsicle craze, as embodied by our own Nathalie Jordi, who's written so engagingly here about her People's Pops, which use absolutely fresh and local ingredients in original combinations that are piquant and refreshing.
And then: Let's hope other readers chide me for my New York gelato ignorance and help us both out!
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