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.