This is a revision of an article I wrote for my column Eat and Tell that appears on Eat Something Sexy, a website created by my lovely friend Amy Reilly. (See link in the side bar)
Gelato making is an art form in Italy and gelaterias often resemble galleries in homage to the frozen fantasy. Even a humble neighborhood shop makes great effort to elaborately garnish the sculpted colorful mounds with fruits, nuts, and candies. The serious artisanal shops are softly lit rich wood paneled rooms with marble floors and elaborate display cases of polished brass manned by charming Italians ready to satisfy your every need.
It’s been a few months since my last visit to Italy, but the summer weather here in NYC and my trip to Brooklyn Bridge Ice Cream Factory yesterday had me reminiscing about my days of wandering the streets of Rome and Florence in search of the best gelato in Italy. I’m happy to report that I was successful in this endeavor! I avoided the chain shops and disappointing gelato experiences by watching for Armani-clad businessmen with fresh cones and choosing places where Italian was still the language of choice. This was easier done in Rome than in Florence – may have had something to do with the Italian to tourist ratio.
Of the seven gelaterias I visited, two of the top three were in Rome, including the one place that I became so enamored with that I returned at least three times (twice in one day!). Here are my three favorites:
1. Della Palma Gelato di Roma: (Via della Maddalena 20, Rome, Italy 00186 near the Pantheon) I’m not the only person who thinks this is the best gelato in Rome, or anywhere else for that matter, but their success has not gone to their heads – though some of it has gone to my thighs! The selection and the quality are extraordinary. In the corner of the display case you will find about a dozen deep, dark chocolate flavors including my favorite one with pepperoncini (spicy red chiles). For those who prefer sorbetto, try fichi (figs with or without ricotta) or fruta di bosca (wild berries).
2. Gelateria Santa Trinita (Lungarno Guicciardini and Piazza Frescobaldi, Florence): The gelateria in Florence that was so highly recommended was a disappointment and many others were the Italian equivalent of Baskin-Robbins. So I wandered slightly off the beaten path on the “other side” of the Arno and found this chic little boutique serving hand crafted silky accessories of the sweet frozen variety to ultra-fashionable locals. I tried a Sicilian cassata gelato that was bejeweled with perfectly cut brunoise (for non-chefs, that’s very small cubes) of seemingly homemade candied fruits in the softest pastel colors embedded in velvety smooth ricotta-scented gelato. A scoop of that and one of pear gelato with a yummy swirl of grappa-soaked pear gelee made for a perfect early evening diversion.
3. [name unknown] on Via Serpenti near Panisperna (in the Subura neighborhood of Rome near the Coliseum): This place is a small neighborhood place that serves a lot more locals than tourists. It’s off the beaten path in the ancient neighborhood that has been known for thousands of years as the Subura. It’s on one of the oldest streets in all of Rome and just a couple of blocks from the perfect little hotel I stayed in (www.hotelartoriusrome.com). I don’t know if this place is worth a detour, but I can say that if you are in the neighborhood, the gelato is wonderful and the staff is friendly, and there is a small piazza nearby with a fountain and some benches where you can reset your tired feet while practicing licking and lingering like an Italian!