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The gelato craze

Ice cream’s creamy cousin is a great summer treat

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gelato, gay news, Washington Blade
gelato, gay news, Washington Blade

D.C. has several great gelato spots. Look for the Dolci Gelato truck around town. (Photo by Rey Lopez)

If you’re looking for an easy bet to win the next time you’re hanging out at the bar with friends, try asking what’s the difference between ice cream and gelato. The answer? Pretty much nothing. The word “gelato” basically translates to “ice cream” in Italian, so, for all intents and purposes, it’s the same thing. Looks like someone owes you a drink now.

Of course, even though ice cream and gelato are technically born from the same ingredients — milk, cream, sugar and sometimes egg yolks — nothing could be better than gelato. This creamy confection is not only made from a slightly different recipe than American-style ice cream, but is also stored at a lower temperature than its cousin, which helps to create that silky just-whipped texture that really does melt in your mouth, with a cleaner aftertaste.

Some of us cling to the urban myth that gelato is somehow better (read “healthier”) than ice cream, but the truth is that, while gelato has a lower butterfat content than traditional ice cream because it uses more milk than cream, it can also have more sugar than ice cream, so it all evens out in the end. Don’t rush out to eat gelato for breakfast in the hopes that it’s the equivalent of having a kale smoothie — but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t enjoy a scoop or two for a treat, especially on a muggy summer evening.

Luckily for us in D.C., there are several local gelaterias to fulfill your gelato cravings — here are a few to check out that will surely help you get through the dog days of summer.

Dolcezza Gelato: With four locations across the D.C. area, Dolcezza first became a twinkle in the eye of husband-and-wife team Robb Duncan and Violeta Edelman when they met in Argentina, where gelato is widely popular; Duncan became so enthralled with it that he learned the nuances of gelato-making from experts in Buenos Aires before bringing that expertise to D.C. With a distinct focus on locally grown fruits, vegetables and herbs to flavor their frozen confections, keep an eye out for a rotating menu of seasonal flavors from Roasted Strawberry and Lemon Ricotta Cardamom to Blackberries & Cream and Stracciatella, which incorporates chocolate shavings into a sweet cream base — a step up from traditional chocolate chip. Locations include City Center D.C.; Fairfax; Logan Circle; and near Union Market.

Dolci Gelati: You can’t go wrong with Gianluigi Dellaccio’s gelato. A native of Naples, Italy, Dellaccio, who was a professional water polo player in his former life, is acknowledged by many as a “gelato genius” — which is probably a well-deserved title since he’s created hundreds of flavors of gelato, including Smoke; Kettle Corn; and Bacon, Maple Syrup & Whiskey featuring local rye from Virginia’s Catoctin Creek Distilling Company. Under the motto of “Universal Happiness for All,” Dolci Gelati has added vegan gelato flavors to its line-up as well as gelato made with local beer from 3 Stars Brewing Company. Be sure to ask for their #lovewins flavor, made in honor of the recent Supreme Court decision on marriage equality. Brick-and-mortar shops located in CityMarket at O and Takoma Park, plus a food truck that brings gelato joy across the city.

Pitango Gelato: Arguably at the forefront of the gelato wave in the D.C. area, Pitango founder Noah Dan credits the control-freak personalities of his staff for their luscious products, which started hitting the streets in 2006, using uber-local dairy products and paying special attention to sourcing special ingredients designed to enhance every mouthful. Many of the flavors have a classic, uncluttered quality, such as Banana, Créme Fraîche (which, at less than 5 percent milkfat, is actually quite low-fat), and Pistachio di Bronte, made with a specific variety of Italian pistachios. The Black Tea gelato is a richly herbaceous alternative to a standard coffee flavor, and pairs well with the Cardamom for a bit of a British Empire twist. Oh, and, although it’s not gelato, the Chocolate Noir Sorbet is so creamy, you’ll never believe it’s dairy-free. Locations include Capitol Hill, Logan Circle and Penn Quarter in D.C.; Fells Point in Baltimore; and Reston.

 

Kristen Hartke is a food writer and editor based in D.C. Follow her kitchen adventures on Twitter: @khartke.

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Dining

Crazy Aunt Helen’s to host ‘Pride-a-palooza’

Barracks Row restaurant celebrating all month long

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Crazy Aunt Helen’s ‘serves American comfort food with a southern slant.’ (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Shayne Mason’s restaurant is as colorful as his language. His multi-hued American eatery Crazy Aunt Helen’s debuted last July on Barracks Row, just a few days after Pride concluded. But as Pride is 365, this restaurant has spent its first year with flair and fanfare, and this June, Mason, who identifies as gay, isn’t holding back.

“I LOVE PRIDE MONTH,” Mason wrote (caps are his). “I love everything we have at Crazy Aunt Helen’s for Pride. Check out our events and get blown away,” he says.

This isn’t Shayne Mason’s first Pride – but it is his first as owner of Crazy Aunt Helen’s, a delightfully fabulous neighborhood restaurant in Barracks Row.  

Thus far in June, Mason has already held comedy shows, book readings, a ladies’ tea dance, play readings, bingo, and a Story District event. Coming up on June 25, to end Pride month with even more color, is “Pride-a-palooza,” featuring a host of drag queens, food, drinks, prizes, and plenty of surprises that Mason has been waiting an entire year to showcase.

Crazy Aunt Helen’s “serves American comfort food with a southern slant,” explains Mason. Taking over the space of Irish pub Finn McCool’s, Crazy Aunt Helen’s spreads over two floors, plus a patio and streatery. The interior is wildly bright: a Prince-esque purple host stand and staircase welcome guests, and a highlighter-green wooden banquette runs the length of the dining room. A set of wicker chairs and flower-print cushions recall that southern influence.

Mason enlisted Pixie Windsor – the very same of eponymous Miss Pixie’s – to design the restaurant (the two have been friends for years). “Pixie has a way with creating fabulous comfortable spaces,” Mason says. 

Windsor and Mason partnered to craft the whimsical aesthetic, from the brilliant paint job to a bright-pink neon sign.

Mason is quick to note that his Aunt Helen “was charming, warm, and funny, with an amazing laugh, and I wanted my restaurant to have that same feeling,” he says. “I wanted our guests to feel like they are getting a big’ol hug each time they walk in the doors.” 

The menu is just as homey and eclectic, overseen by chef Mykie Moll. Mason waxes poetic about the fried green tomatoes, the chicken fried steak smothered in chicken sausage gravy, and a Jewish-style braised brisket. Yet many of the dishes are also vegan and vegetarian, like the “fab” cakes made of soy and mushroom and a vegan steak.

As for the drinks, Mason says that the “signature cocktails are also seasonally driven, and I only use local distilleries like Republic Restoratives, another LGBTQIA business.” There’s also a list of beer, wine, and zero-proof drinks.

Mason has been in the restaurant business since he moved to D.C. in 1984, working first at Mr. Henry’s on Capitol Hill, and most recently as director of business development for the restaurant group of the highly lauded restaurant industry leader, and lesbian, Jamie Leeds.

Mason is using Pride this year as Crazy Aunt Helen’s coming out, both as a restaurant and a safe space. “I can say that I have had experiences in my life where I didn’t feel welcomed places. The staff and I work very hard to make sure everyone who walks into Crazy Aunt Helen’s feels welcome,” he says.

“I find it’s the small things that build to allow folks to feel safe,” he notes. There’s no required uniform, allowing staff to dress however they feel most comfortable. Mason also makes an effort to support local LGBTQ artists and performers, giving them space in the second-floor Peacock Room to share their talents.

To that end, Mason is offering The Rainbow Theatre Project, a theater group that has been dark since pandemic closings, a home until they are back up and running. During June, they performed four staged readings from four LGBTQ playwrights. “I can’t wait to have the Peacock Room buzzing with entertainment every night of the week and to hear all the people laughing and enjoying the food, each other and the show,” Mason says.

Mason’s goal at Crazy Aunt Helen’s is twofold: create a space “that’s welcoming and nourishing to both our bellies and our spirits.”

Shayne Mason (Photo courtesy of Mason)
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Relish Market offers a space for wellness

Lesbian entrepreneur a supporter of mission-driven brands

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Stephanie Freeman and daughter Alexia Yates own Relish Market. (Photo by Kea Dupree)

From urban farmer to wellness provider, Stephanie Freeman has been a caregiver to the earth and to her customers for more than a decade. Freeman, who identifies as lesbian, owns Relish Market with her daughter, Alexia Yates. Located in Brentwood, Md., Relish offers housemade drinks, herb and spice mixes, condiments, wellness products, and a host of proudly D.C.-made products.

Freeman founded Relish Market in 2018 and opened a storefront inside of miXt Food Hall in October 2019 upon the inauguration of the hall. (miXt co-hosted the Arts, Beats, and Eats festival in May, which featured several LGBTQ artists.)

Freeman began in the food industry in earnest in 2013 as an urban farmer and food entrepreneur selling her hot sauce and condiment brand, Pepperly Love, at farmer’s markets and events throughout the area. Her daughter Yates focuses on the catering and custom beverage aspects of Relish. With a background as a chef, she brings experience and creativity to the goods at Relish.

Although Freeman came from the corporate world, she grew up in a home with a big, productive garden. She has cherished memories of canning produce with her grandfather.

Among its offerings, Relish may be best known for its beverages. It serves a rainbow’s worth of smoothies: everything from strawberry-banana to peanut butter, kale, and whey. The shop offers more than 20 add-ons to boost the drinks, including new superfoods like sea moss gel and black seed oil. There’s also a range of juices and proprietary tea mixes like elderberry echinacea chai. All the options are made in house, just like her own spice and herb blends: she’s packed everything from butterfly pea flowers to valerian root to adobo lime spice mix.

When the opportunity came up to open the marketplace within MiXt, Freeman jumped at the occasion. The food hall allowed her to further express her creativity and provided her with a platform to showcase her talents – and put her in front of a bigger, broader audience, but also one that seeks to make close connections.

“I’m proud,” she says,” because there aren’t so many places for healthy choices where customers can ask questions while also supporting local.”

Having opened at the end of 2019, Relish soon had to confront pandemic restrictions. While customers couldn’t stay to eat at MiXt and many vendors were closed, Relish was able to stay open. It was during this challenging period that Freeman leaned in to her wellness background.

The gray of the pandemic cloud therefore offered something of a silver lining. Relish became a community space when so many other vendors and food establishments were shuttered. It was through these in-person interactions that Freeman has found her calling.

Freeman has embraced her role as caregiver and supporter of mission-driven brands. She stocks products from more than 20 local vendors in addition to her own in-house-crafted products. Being in front of so many customers, she’s proud to show that people like her can create wholesome, welcoming spaces.

“People see the shop as more than just selling food, but create a space for wellness,” she says.

Referring to other LGBTQ people in the food space, she says that the community is “often underrepresented and underreported on.” She also notes her ability to “pass” as a straight Black woman unless she specifically speaks about her identity. She therefore ensures to recognize others who need that recognition. When sourcing her products, she always looks to organizations that are supportive. She has also participated in Black Pride events in the past.

“I’m excited to show to other would-be entrepreneurs to know that it’s possible here, as an example. I want to emphasize that I certainly had to overcome obstacles, whether its Black, or female, or otherwise, but it is possible, even with the odds stacked against you.”

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At Michele’s, sophisticated cuisine in an inclusive space

Executive sous chef Rachel Bindel brings her full identity to work

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‘Being at Michele’s, I can be my full self, which makes my work better, too,’ says Michele’s executive sous chef Rachel Bindel. (Photo courtesy Michele’s)

Both traditional and chosen, it’s all about family at Michele’s. Michelin-starred chef and owner Matt Baker named the restaurant after his late mother, but it’s also where Executive Sous Chef Rachel Bindel, who identifies as a lesbian, feels at home. 

“I have never felt comfortable enough to be completely open about myself until I met this team,” she says.

As Executive Sous Chef, Bindel oversees daily operations at Michele’s, located in the mission-focused Eaton Hotel. She also plans menus and runs scheduling, sourcing, and events.

The menu at Michele’s is a reflection of Chef Baker’s upbringing in Houston and New Orleans, resulting in a sophisticated, French-American cuisine. Both Baker and Bindel are trained in classical French techniques, and both also spent time cooking and studying in East Asia. The combination of their background and vision come together at the tables at Michele’s.

Bindel also oversees the chef’s table 10-seat, 14-course, Lorraine’s Counter. Each dish is inspired by specific food memories, designed and cooked by the chefs to tell the story of Michele’s and who they are as chefs. 

Driven and creative, Bindel, who grew up in the Mid-Atlantic region, recalls food nostalgia as far back as the wafting aromas of her mother’s baked ziti fresh from the oven. She graduated from the Culinary Institute of America, steeping herself in French cooking and a specialized focus on Advanced Japanese Techniques.

But it was also while studying at the CIA when she met her wife Marissa. Both were CIA students moonlighting as staff at the on-campus restaurant. A back-of-house romance soon blossomed and they married last month. 

After graduating, the two relocated to Charleston, where Bindel worked at acclaimed restaurant Husk. “While I loved living at the beach, eventually it was time to move back home,” she said. She came to D.C. in June of 2019, landing at Tail Up Goat. 

In September of 2021, she joined 101 Hospitality (the parent company run by Chef Baker that also manages Gravitas and Baker’s Daughter) to run research and development for Michele’s. The restaurant opened last November.

When Bindel graduated, she moved to Charleston in search of the best place to expand her cooking chops. But it was also not the most open space she has encountered in her young career.

In D.C., “a more welcoming city,” she notes, she has the ability to look at both the cooking and the environment for the staff, where everyone can be open about who they are.

“Being at Michele’s, I can be my full self, which makes my work better, too. I don’t have to hide, so I can explore even more who I am as a chef.” 

Her work is on full display for the restaurant’s current seasonal menu. A highlight: the Parisian gnocchi, a flour-based dough pocket in the French style, in place of the traditional potato. The pasta spheres are bathed in a rich Parmesan cream, snuggled by foraged mushrooms and brilliantly green spring peas and asparagus. Other veggie-forward items include a duo of tarte flambee: potato and black truffle, and squash blossom and ricotta. The restaurant also serves fresh French bread, cheese and charcuterie plates, and lofty seafood towers.

“At Michele’s,” she says, “we have created not only a safe space for our diners but also all of our staff. We have adopted a more inclusive standard of service. We no longer serve all females first, and we have eliminated the need for gender pronouns when addressing tables. Being on the management side, I can create space for everyone to be comfortable.”

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