Everyone knows Italians live better than Americans. They take long lunches with family, drink vino with every dinner, and enjoy an afternoon siesta without feeling guilty for not working. Part of the lush life of Italy is the evening passeggiata, a leisurely stroll to your favorite gelateria with a friend. The gelateria makes fresh, delicious gelato every day – it’s the Italian take on ice cream. However, there are several major differences.
Ice cream is just that – cream. Gelato is made with milk, and possesses a lower fat and calorie content. Air is whipped into both frozen confections in a machine, but gelato has much less air whipped into it. This creates a denser product with much more flavor in each bite than in conventional ice cream. Gelato is NOT the soft-serve that is heaped atop water ice at Rita’s.
Keeping these differences in mind, I think gelato is suffering from a perceived value problem. Servings of gelato are smaller, since it is a denser and more flavorful creation. They are also more expensive than your standard Jack & Jill pint, since far more ingredients go into each bite.
At Capogiro Gelato Artisans, owners John and Stephanie Reitano are determined to overcome the image hurdle and share this luscious Italian treat with Philadelphia. The day I visited, Stephanie was in the basement kitchen roasting peanuts and black walnuts for the next day’s batches as the staff gracefully mixed ingredients, cut fruit, and attended to the gelato machine, dancing around each other in the tiny kitchen. Capogiro uses only the most seasonal and local products available, and the milk comes from grass-fed, hormone-free cows. This reflects the Italian aesthetic of using the best possible ingredients.
Capogiro sits at the corner of 13th and Sansom streets in the heart of Center City. When you step inside, the toasty smell of La Columbe coffee lures you right to the swooping glass cases full of homemade gelato flavors. There are familiar friends, like Cioccolato Banana (chocolate banana) or Nocciola (hazelnut), but Capogiro truly shines in its unexpected, original creations like Basil or Moro (blood orange). Though Basil may seem an odd choice for dessert, it is strikingly fresh and carries the lightly sweet spice of the summery herb. Another concoction that has gained notoriety is the Rosemary Honey Goat Milk, a gentle melding of the sweet and woodsy.
Even if you dare not try the elusive Caped Gooseberry – a sweet member of the tomatillo family – there will be a creamy confection that calls your name. Gazing at the stainless-steel containers heaped with pastel gelato and sorbetto is an exercise in approach-approach conflict, a psychological term for being attracted to two goals simultaneously. Every single one tempted a different pleasure. John dug mini plastic spoons into each container, letting me try the various fruity or rich flavors. Each bite was like a cool burst of clear flavor – clean green basil or satisfying coffee alive on the palate. This is good stuff – it all tastes like it is made with love.
Capogiro isn’t just frozen fun. They offer handmade panini sandwiches like Italian tonno (tuna) with artichoke hearts and black olive tapenade. There is the full range of La Columbe coffee and espresso, and little Italian chocolates and fruit jellies. With Capogiro’s dainty café seating outside, I can see it being an original, non-drinking, non-boring date spot.
The balmy weather of May has almost arrived, and long evenings designed for walks in the park. The day after graduation, I will be strolling along Rittenhouse like it’s Roma, with my Pompelmo Rosso con Campari sorbetto, enjoying the sweet life we were meant to live.
Felicia D’Ambrosio can be contacted at Caspian@temple.edu.