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How Sweet It Is

A luscious taste of Italy

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Standing in the middle of Florence's Ponte Vecchio, I learned the valued position gelato held in my family. When we voted on whether to visit the Uffizi Museum to see the world renowned Botticelli's "Birth of Venus" or return to Vivoli (Gelateria) for yet another helping of their wondrous homemade ice cream, the gelato won in a landslide. My kids figured that Venus would be there forever, but extraordinary ice cream could not wait.

It was trips to Italy by Charlotteans that prompted restaurateur and Milan native Luisa Castiglioni to open a gelateria in Charlotte. "I had a lot of my clients coming back from Italy and asking me why you don't have gelato here (in her Luisa's Brick Oven Pizzeria). Then they wanted me to open a shop. We decided why not give it to Charlotte."

With Americans becoming more conscious of watching what they eat, the timing seemed right. "Gelato," she continued, "is low in fat since it is made with milk, not only cream. Gelato has six percent fat. Ice cream has 18 percent fat (butterfat). The fruit is fat free. With gelato you get more flavor and less fat. Really, gelato is taking over the other states."

Castiglioni opened the 25-seat Dolce Gelato in Birkdale last March. This September she opened a 35-seat shop in Dilworth and plans to add two more shops in the Charlotte area in 2004. With her in this venture is Rudy Amadio, her husband and native of Rome. She met Amadio in Asheville four years ago. Amadio, an accountant, works in the shops as well.

The interior of the Dilworth location is bright, casual, and punctuated with Italian statements: metal chairs, bistro tables, banners, large paper stars, and aqua walls. What draws you into Dolce Gelato is the front case. Slowly stroll by dozens of freshly made gelatos. If you see one you want to sample, ask the person behind the counter for a taste. No one resists the stracciatella, a creamy vanilla gelato drizzled with dark chocolate. But there are more: hazelnut, apple pie, lemon, green apple, chocolate. Choosing only one is difficult, so opt to pair flavors in a single serving. The piccolo size is two flavors for $2.75; Medio is three flavors for $3.75, and the Grande is four flavors for $4.25. The kid cone (or cup) is one flavor for $1.90. These prices are a steal considering the cost of ice cream cones around town - and they're downright cheap, considering the quality and creativity.

The lunch crowd gravitates to the sandwiches: panini ($5.50 to $6.25), tramezzini (soft sandwiches: $2.99 for Nutella to $4.25 for frittata on white bread), and friselle, an open face sandwich on a thin baguette for $3.95 to $4.75. The panini sandwiches, with breads from Nova Bakery, are large, but not bulky, and stocked with melding flavorings. Try the smoked turkey, brie, sliced green apples, field greens, and Dijon honey mustard combo on focaccia or the roast beef, asiago cheese, lettuce, tomatoes and onions, and gorgonzola mayonnaise sandwich. Other combinations are equally appealing and balanced: marinated vegetable with provolone cheese, sun-dried tomato mayonnaise on an onion roll; fresh mozzarella, tomatoes, basil pesto on a baguette; and a muffuletta on francese. Sandwiches come with a choice of Tuscan bean salad (marinated white beans), chips, or panzanella salad.

With the extra calories you saved by eating gelato, blow it all at the dessert case. Note, however, that with the exception of the densely flavored tiramisu, these mouthwatering items are not made in-house. Some are made in an Italian bakery in New York, and some, such as the Italian Napoleon, are made in a bakery in Pineville. In the case are cannoli shells waiting to be piped and then dipped in chocolate; puff pastries with whipped cream; sfogliatelle, a sweet ricotta cream filled pastry; a Viennese Sacher torte with layered chocolate sponge cake with apricot jam and chocolate cream; Italian cheesecakes, or slices of European styled cakes.

Additionally, Dolce offers Italian wine, cocktails including a Bellini, Italian beer, coffees including affogato panna, which is espresso over a scoop of gelato with whipped cream and Italian sodas. Once a month Castiglioni holds an Italian dessert wine tasting. She said, "People need to become familiar with dessert wines. We do not charge for this event. It is very popular."

On Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday nights at the Dilworth location, a local teacher instructs conversational Italian from 7pm until 8pm for five bucks. Can't beat that. Call ahead for the holiday instructional schedule, though.

If you're looking for a way to revive yourself from holiday shopping or just the lack of sunlight, I can think of no better place than Dolce Gelato. Eating their gelato makes you feel, for a fleeting moment, like you're standing on the Ponte Vecchio in the sunlight: warm all over.

Eaters' Digest
Chris Zion, who also owns The Meeting House in Myers Park, is opening the 77-seat ONEO Bistro, 7725 Colony Road in the Colony Place Mall (corner of Colony and Rea Roads), on December 10th. For now they will be open for dinner and Sunday brunch. Lunch will open in February. On the menu are 60 wines by the glass, predominately California. The menu is "New American dishes dictated by the seasons and a light approach to fusion".

Also open is Pacific and Vine, 6401 Morrison Blvd., formerly Cino Grille. The concept is "casual, wine-friendly cuisine inspired by the wine-growing regions of the Pacific Ocean." Hours are Monday through Thursday 11am until 11pm; Friday and Saturday until midnight; Sunday 11am until 10pm. 704-365-8226.

Have a restaurant tip, compliment, complaint? Do you know of a restaurant that has opened, closed, or should be reviewed? Does your restaurant or shop have news, menu changes, new additions to staff or building, upcoming cuisine or wine events? Fax information to Eaters' Digest: 704-944-3605, or leave voice mail: 704-522-8334, ext. 136. Note: We need events at least 12 days in advance. To contact Tricia via email: tricia.childress@creativeloafing.com

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