Oh! Gelato!

Photo: Lotus Head/Wikipedia

When the weather warms up, the ultimate comfort food is ice cream. A little lick, an instant melt, and a smooth slide down your throat provide a simple pleasure.

When I was in elementary school, eating ice cream was a celebrated weekly occurence. Fridays were my favorite day of the week, becuase my mom was able to get out of work early and pick me up from school. On the way home, we’d always stop for ice cream at Thrifty Drugstores (RiteAid bought them out in 1996). For 35 cents, I got my scoop of ice cream and quality time with Mom.

Then I had an epiphany two years ago. While visiting Italy, I tasted gelato for the first time. Technically, gelato is Italian for ice cream, but if you have real gelato, you will never confuse it with mere ice cream. Gelato tastes as strong as the flavor itself, and it has a silky smooth texture like soft-serve. Ironically, these qualities make gelato lower in fat than ice cream.

Gelato is made with whole milk instead of cream, as fat coats the tongue and mutes flavors. Super-premium ice cream, like Ben & Jerry’s and Haagen Daz, have 15-20% butter fat. By FDA standards, the cheapest plain ice cream can have 10% butter fat. Gelato, on the other hand, contains 3-10% fat.

The cheapest ice cream is half air, or 100% overrun. That’s why generic supermarket ice cream comes in large yet light containers. The overrun in gelato is much lower, around 20%. Because gelato is denser, it’s served at a higher temperature, which also intensifies the flavors.

In my quest to replicate the Italian experience, I’ve trekked all across Manhattan to find the best gelato and sorbet, another mainstay of gelaterias.

il Laboratorio del GelatoIl Laboratorio del Gelato
The gelato is shockingly flavorful, soft and smooth, just like it is in Italy. My favorite is the chocolate gelato, but creator Jon Snyder rotates exotic flavors, like black sesame and lavender. The sorbets are also super flavorful, but some, like the coconut, are icy and crumbly.
Verdict: Best gelato
photo: il Laboratorio del Gelato

Otto's olive oil gelatoOtto Pizzeria
Mario Batali’s restaurant serves mildly flavored gelato, up to three flavors in a cup. Their signature olive oil gelato is very subtle. It gets better as you finish it, because the flavors take time to accumulate. My favorite is the ricotta, which tastes like fresh cheesecake.
Verdict: Runner-up for best gelato
photo: Foodite

ciao bella valrhona chocolate gelatoCiao Bella Gelato
Despite its name, sorbet is Ciao Bella’s strongest point. The chocolate sorbet is so rich and creamy that you won’t believe it’s dairy-free and has one gram of fat per serving. The fruit sorbet is also very good. Blood orange and raspberry pair wonderfully with chocolate, but the mango and apple are delicious too. The gelato is high-quality ice cream, but not on par as gelato.
Verdict: Best chocolate sorbet, runner-up for best fruit sorbet
photo: Oyatsu

This bakery serves divine fruit sorbet only in the summer, so take full advantage of their mango, raspberry and cassis flavors. The mango sorbet tastes like the ripest fruit imaginable, just like in Italy.
Verdict: Best fruit sorbet

il Laboratorio del Gelato’s bitter-chocolate sorbet
Ciao Bella’s mint gelato and blackberry-cabernet sorbet
Olive oil gelato
Otto’s lemon gelato

il Laboratorio del Gelato
95 Orchard St. (between Broome & Delancey Sts)
New York, NY 10002
(212) 343 9922

Otto Pizzeria
1 5th Ave.
New York, NY 10003
(212) 995-9559
An outdoor cart is also in Washington Square Park (Waverly Pl. at MacDougal St.) from April to Nov.

Ciao Bella Gelato
various locations nationwide, including Grand Central Station, Mott St., 92 St. and the World Financial Center (opening soon)

166 Chambers St.
New York, NY 10007
(212) 566-8933

55 Spring St
New York, NY 10012
(212) 274-9179

Definition of ice cream
Ice cream v. gelato

Comments (12)      Email Email      Print Print


  1. Nic said,

    Mmm… Thrifty ice cream. Not only has it wonsome national awards, but Rite Aids still carry it! Now I’m in the mood, too.
    Anyway, this is a nice wrap up, Jessica. I have to agree with you about CiaoBella -I love their sorbets.

    April 22, 2006 at 11:50 pm

  2. Robyn said,

    Now I see why my roommate eats entire pints of Ciao Bella’s chocolate sorbet. (Seriously, there’s an empty container in the trash right now!)

    April 23, 2006 at 11:24 am

  3. Jessica said,

    Hey Nic, did you ever make it to Al Gelato? Thrifty ice cream probably has a lot of overrun and low butterfat, but it was satisfying when I was little. I really liked the malted chocolate ice cream. It was a light chocolate base with chocolate flakes and crunchy white balls. Mmm, I think I’ll visit Thrifty the next time I’m in CA. I remember when I used to scoff at paying more than $1 for a scoop of ice cream. How times have changed!

    April 23, 2006 at 8:31 pm

  4. Allen said,

    Hey Jessica,

    Awesome write up. I’m sure you saved a ton of people from having to walk (and incidentally burn calories they’ll injest with the gelato they’ll eat). Now I definitely have to hunt down the gelato cart in Washington Square park. 😀

    And for the record: Ferrara’s gelato isn’t very good at all. Icy in texture and just blah.

    $1 a scoop sounds ridiculous. Darn inflation. 😛


    April 23, 2006 at 10:43 pm

  5. sul3781 said,

    I was in the Rid-Aid last week (not for the ice cream) and actually thought about our Friday afternoon’s dates in many moons ago.

    Hmmm…gelato! I love the shop that you took me. Was it the “il Laboratorio del Gelato”? It was the best gelato I ever tasted.

    April 24, 2006 at 3:28 pm

  6. Jessica said,

    Allen, for the record, Ferrara does suck. It could pass as super-premium ice cream, but that’s not gelato. Also for the record: Cones is pretty good but not necessarily worth its price. Fairway’s is sandy and heavy with dairy flavor. Jimmy’s Gelato in Chelsea Market has excellent texture, but the flavor could be stronger. It’s worth a try if it’s the only gelateria you have access to.

    I still want to try the gelato at Fortunato Brothers in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

    April 24, 2006 at 10:02 pm

  7. Gerald said,

    You’re right, the Otto “EVOO” gelato gets better as you eat it, its strangely addicting to me, I never thought I’d ever like it. I havent been to Il Laboratorio yet, but honestly have never had gelato as good as the kind in Europe anywhere in the US.

    April 25, 2006 at 2:35 pm

  8. Jane said,

    When I am in a different town or city I alwyas try to fine their local ice cream or sorbet, you never know what surprise you might find.

    May 3, 2006 at 1:44 pm

  9. growitgreen said,

    I love gelato, but it is difficult to find a shop that makes it in my small town in S.C. so, I have to make it myself when I get a craving. I appreciate all of the recipes I can get my hands on. Check out this “cool” article about gelato at http://www.foodista.com

    July 18, 2008 at 9:59 am

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