Monday, April 14, 2008

Entrants in the Gelato Derby, Part II

The next 5 entrants feature 2 in Trastevere, 1 almost on top of the Pantheon, and 2 within a couple of blocks of the Ponte Garibaldi. They are:

Crema e Cioccolato
Fonte della Salute
Checcho er Carretiere
Cremeria Monteforte

Crema e Cioccolato. via del Portico d'Ottavia, 14. This is in the Jewish Ghetto, a tiny neighborhood abutting the Tiber, right near the Tiber Island. Approaching it, you’ll see (or pass) some of the columns and archeological crud from the Portico d’Ottavia and Teatro Marcello, and in fact, you can amble through it as you have your gelato. Their gelato is kosher. Although… how do you make gelato un-kosher, aside from using David Lebovitz’s tempting-looking recipe for candied bacon ice cream? We are not usually talking about a forbidden meat/dairy combo with gelato. Shellfish and pork products don’t seem to be as popular mix-ins as, say, chocolate chips. I do get that there’s probably some mysterious emulsifier that is made of some variety of partially hydrogenated pork product (and… yuck). Anyway. You would think, given the name of the gelateria, that the chocolate and cream flavors would be unassailably good. The chocolate was dark, dark, dark and quite good. The cream? A little weak, as was the vanilla. The frutti di bosco and strawberry were good, stratciatella was fine, and the caramello was almost too strongly flavored- if the crema had been better it would have set a perfect, calm foil to the intensity of the caramello. You’d think I would say, from all this quibbling, that we didn’t like it, but... we did. It’s just, well, Pica was only a couple of blocks away, and was, on the whole, a bit stronger.

Fonte della Salute
. via Cardinale Marmaggi, 4. The kids could not have loved the name more ("It's the source of health! Gelato is good for us!"). The location is not particularly atmospheric, on the corner right near a busy street, but they have some basic seating outside for their gelato devourers (a touch we appreciated in all the places we found it), and their gelato was across-the-board delicious. The speed with which my testers demolished their gelati was a testament to the quality of the gelato, particularly since by the time we got ourselves over to Fonte della Salute (by tram, which pleased the testers to no end), they were seasoned gelato eaters and had grown a little choosier.

Checco er Carettiere, via Benedetta, 6. The café next door is listed in many a guidebook, but that’s not how we came across this place. My mom and I would take what the kids, my dad and Stumpy (rather judgementally) called "speed death marches" while they all took a post-lunch afternoon break. We’d cruise around, window-shop at places that hadn’t pulled down their shutters, and generally check stuff out. On this particular afternoon, my mom and I had picked up our pace a little, since we’d been out a little longer than planned (again), when she noticed a ton of well-dressed loitering Italians, eating gelato. They weren’t dressed up as if they were going to a party; they were dressed as if they were working, but taking a break. And there were lots of them. The tiny storefront, which had little more than a foot of space between the counter and the door, opened directly into the street, and the small space was packed with grown-ups waiting for gelato, with the “line” of people jockeying for better position bulging out into a knot of people in the street. We noted the address, and the next afternoon (we already had a gelato/sight-seeing mission for that afternoon), dragged Stumpy and the kids over there. Nobody was sorry. The gelato was lovely. The flavors were strong across the board, and although I later found Checco er Carretiere in a couple of guidebooks, it is incredibly fun to find a place by stumbling upon it. I’m not fond of crowds, or waits, but often (hi, Café Besalu in Seattle, where I waited 20 minutes in line Saturday morning for the very best pain au chocolat in town, which was still slightly warm from the oven when I got it home) when a crowd of locals is waiting, and waiting, there might be something to it (although... not always). In this case, there was. The bar next door (part of the same business) appears to serve panini and the like.
It's a little thing, but I loved checking out the different neighborhood insignia on trash cans. Some were SPQR cans, with the wolf, but many had neighborhood symbols. My dad finally looked up what SPQR meant, because all I could remember was "Sono porchi, questi romani," which translates about to "They're pigs, these Romans," and, of course, stuck in my head more than the proper Latin which is something like "senatus populus que romanum" or somesuch high minded non-insulting stuff.

Pica. Via della Seggiola, 12. If you’re looking for a sign saying “Alberto Pica” you’d best hope that their awning is positioned so that the not-super-obvious signage on the wall is visible. It looks like any other bar/caffe, unless you are (and their awning) are positioned for you to make out the whole “Alberto Pica” thing. However, a sign you that you might be in the right place are the heavily armed fellas in uniform just across the street from it, since Pica is across the lane from a government building. It is just off of via Arenula (giving it a not dissimilar outdoor atmosphere to Fonte della Salute, which is off of the same street, but on the other side of the river, so it’s called viale Trastevere, with trams rumbling past, the buzzing of motorini and the thumping of busses). Pica's chocolate, although good and dark, had a little bit too much of a pudding-taste to it for me (no, I can’t think of how better to describe that), but their crema and stratciatella were quite good, as was their coffee. Their fruit flavors were lovely; Curly and I were disappointed that they eschewed making raspberry out of season (which, look, sometimes seems a little like an affectation, one practiced by many gelaterie. Strawberries are not exactly in prime season in Italy yet, and yet everyone had strawberry available) since I remember Pica as having the best raspberry gelato in town. Their gelato is, as I said, quite good. I took all 4 kids (we were in Rome at the same time as one of my sisters and her family) a couple of times, which gave us a broad sampling span. You don’t need to watch out for weak flavors here, and there are a few benches plunked outside (as well as a trash can) for gelato eaters to sit on as they eat.
Cremeria Monteforte. We were in line here, and some Americans came up behind us, listened to Curly say, “limone e fragola. No. Fragola e cioccolato” (my kids didn’t learn much Italian, but they can list almost every gelato flavor- aside from nut flavors- in Italian), looked at the rest of the line, and said something along the lines of “that place right on the piazza is empty. Let’s go there.” And I thought (but managed to keep my opinion entirely to myself): dummies. Cremeria Monteforte faces the Pantheon, and I hate to be super-cynical, but this would normally make one suspicious of the quality. Sure, it’s not right on the ever-crowded piazza, but it ain’t far from it. Fiocco di Neve is not quite right on piazza Rotunda, either, and I personally think it rather mediocre (and thus excluded it from entering the Gelato Derby), despite being mentioned in many guidebooks. Cremeria Monteforte is pretty solid (and also mentioned in many guidebooks). They’re not, say, Pica or Ciampini, but they’re a really good choice; certainly far, far better than any of the nearby Blue Ices. They have a couple of semifreddi as well, which one of my nephews discovered are quite delicious (I told him that this summer I would show him the deep, dark secrets of semifreddo manufacturing).


cook eat FRET said...

i wannnnna be youuuuuu....

i mean how fun is this or what?

Meg said...

It was incredibly fun. I loved how into the testing-and-ranking the kids got, and, well... I loved the whole thing.