The Gelato “Crawl”: A Transcendent Experience

I had my first gelato when I was 16 years old. I was in Washington, D.C., on a Presidential Classroom experience, and the organizers set us free inside a giant mall for a few hours. In the middle of mall traffic sat a gelato cart, and a couple of the girls I was with screamed, “Gelato!” and rushed over.

At this point in my life, I was not a big ice cream person, but when I saw the decadent flavors bursting from their metal tins in heaps of color and decorative topping, I went into a hypnotic trance. Where had this delicacy been all my life? I ordered a cone with three scoops — and they were giant scoops, I remember it well — of chocolate, coffee and tiramisu, and I had to sit down to eat it so I could marvel over its goodness. “How does it taste just like tiramisu?” I wondered. From that moment forward I believed gelato could provide people with a transcendent experience, and 11 years later, I finally made it to the homeland and had Italian gelato in Italy.

I’m now writing as the ghost of myself since the former Jenny has entered into Heaven, but I made a promise before I visited Italy to write about the gelato that the Ocean State has to offer. Amid the popular Del’s Lemonade and Newport Creameries, there are some hidden gelateria gems, and they’re worth trying before the dwindling heat of summer completely disappears.

Before I describe my top picks, I feel I ought to address the ever-popular question: “What’s the difference between gelato and ice cream?”

For those of you who require a more thorough comparison than gelato is Italian ice cream (and therefore takes a siesta at 2pm), the best answer is that gelato has less fat. Rejoice! It’s practically healthy!*

*This statement is not supported by the FDA. 

The reason for this is that gelato is made primarily with milk, while ice cream is made with cream and, often, egg yolk. Gelato is churned at a slower rate, which introduces less air into the mix and gives it a smoother, denser quality while ice cream is more airy. Lastly, gelato can be served at warmer temperatures, which allows it look more like fluffy whipped cream than a rock-solid brick.
In essence, good gelato has a smooth explosion of flavor with only a limited amount of guilt.

Here are the results of my “Gelato Crawl,” although truth be told, even a gelato-lover like me could not handle more than two gelato servings in a day, so this taste-testing was spread out over the course of a week.

4. Dolce Gelateria
Dolce is the gelato representative of Providence now that Nik’s is closed. I feel it deserves an honorable mention because “Gelateria” is in its title, but their selection of gelato flavors compared to their ice cream flavors is only fractional. I was not moved to tears upon eating it, as is often the case with good gelato, and I found the consistency to be less smooth than I’ve come to expect. (Their ice cream, on the other hand, is another story. I will be returning for a scoop of their black raspberry and peanut butter.) The most interesting part of the night was the fact that I ran into a gentleman I used to date while on a first date with someone else. Thankfully, frozen dessert allows awkward moments to be thwarted with a discussion of “What flavor did you get?” and “That sounds great. I’ll have to try that next time!” Gelaterias: building bridges.

3. Nana’s Gelato and Ice Cream
Nana’s has four locations; I visited the one in downtown Newport. It was a last minute decision to get gelato while the rest of my friends settled in to a bar down the street. It was 9:45pm and, as I learned, the Newport Nana’s does not have a phone number, so I relied on faith that they closed at 10 and ran out of the bar. (I first stopped at security to make friends with a guy called “Tiny,” asking that he let me back into the bar without charging the cover fee. He agreed.) Despite the hectic night scene outside, the inside of Nana’s was small and quiet. They had a sign posted that declared “Gelato is 95% Fat Free,” and I learned that even their fruit flavors were gelato, not sorbets, as I would have guessed. I sampled the coconut mango, which would have been a great daytime flavor, but I wanted something edgier, something with chocolate. I asked the girl if she had a favorite (it’s how I test people) and she did: “Nana’s Kiss and Snickers.” It was chocolate with a hint of caramel flavor, mixed with subtle chocolate shavings. I got half of that with crème brûlée. The latter was my favorite of the two — more distinct in flavor — but by the last bite it was too sweet. There were no seats inside, so I sat on a nearby bench and people-watched. Finally, I found my way back to Tiny, who kept his promise and let me in.

cold fusion2. Cold Fusion
This was my favorite new discovery. I had just taken two Polish visitors and a Worcester resident on the Newport Cliff Walks, and before heading home we stopped here, and what a great find it was!  The service was friendly — the staff even helped a group of customers perform the “Ice Bucket Challenge” in front of their store — and their flavors were exotic and creative: blueberry lavender, chocolate-covered cherry, maple habanero, peanut butter brownie, Madagascar bourbon vanilla. The guy scooping samples didn’t roll his eyes after I said, “This is my last sample, I promise … okay, no really, THIS is my last sample,” but instead he empathized: “I know — too many good choices!” I got a medium cup, and it was such a huge, heaping serving that it took me 15 minutes to eat. Despite the generous quantity, I nearly walked back and ordered more because I enjoyed it so much. Word to the wise: Come as a tour guide so as not to be tempted to return 30 minutes later for seconds.

1. Beckett’s Authentic Gelato
Located beneath the National Hotel on Block Island, Beckett’s is a great gelato find. I had been there before, but it’s a different experience each time because there are always new flavors. (The best hazelnut I’ve ever had was at Beckett’s, but I’ve yet to see it again. If you see it, TRY IT.) On this trip, my friends and I spent the day biking around Block Island on a quest for a glass orb, and at the end of the day, we rewarded our unsuccessful efforts with gelato. The daily special was mint brownie, which my two friends ordered, along with half-espresso and cappuccino chip, respectively. I ordered coconut, my go-to flavor, and blackberry, because when I tasted it, it reminded me ofbecketts being a kid: my mom and I biking to TCBY and get blackberry frozen yogurt. It had that same rich flavor as my memory, but was much creamier. Compared to the fruit sorbets that Beckett’s also carries, it wasn’t as sweet. It was just right. The coconut was also divine, with little specks of coconut giving it added texture. The “authentic” in Beckett’s name is well-earned — it’s quite like Italian gelato. We ambled slowly to the ferry, savoring each bite, until it was time to ride off into the sunset.

Dolce Gelateria: 270 Wickenden, Providence

Nana’s Gelato and Ice Cream: 8 Fair Street, Newport

Cold Fusion: 389 Thames, Newport

Beckett’s Authentic Gelato: Water Street, Block Island (Note: cash only)

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