It was just about the last thing I expected my four-year-old daughter to say. “Mommy,” she said, with bubble-gum pink strawberry ice cream dribbling down her fingers and off the end of her cone, “I don’t want anymore gelato.”
It was just about the last thing I expected my four-year-old daughter to say.
“Mommy,” she said, with bubble-gum pink strawberry ice cream dribbling down her fingers and off the end of her cone, “I don’t want anymore gelato.”
Every parent knows the location of at least a few strategically located ice cream shops, and we definitely all know the closest one to home. When it’s hot and sticky, nothing can pacify a finicky kid like a cone or cup of their favorite frozen flavor.
Gelato, particularly, can satisfy the adult craving and it’s so much more hip. The last few years in Portland have seen a handful of gelato shops, featuring the Italian delicacy.
There are two notable differences you’ll taste when eating gelato.
First, the texture: gelato in Italy is super rich, creamy and dense. With very little air in it, Italians swipe it onto a cone with a flat paddle resembling a spackle knife, resulting in a smooth surface. Ice cream, on the other hand, is scooped and it has a mealy appearance and almost fluffy feel on the tongue.
How do the Italians do it? Who knows, but the gelato in Portland merely approaches the stuff at the source.
Second, the flavors: traditional desserts in Italy have been transformed into a palette of standard gelato flavors. The Portland gelaterias stick to those roots. Gianduia is a popular favorite, and is a creamy, milkier chocolate enhanced with a generous dose of hazelnut. Think nutella on ice. Zabaglione is another import, an egg custard doused with marsala. Tiramisu, we all know, is rum and espresso touched with a dash of cocoa and mascarpone cheese.
All of the Portland gelaterias also make sorbetto (sorbet), which is a radically different treat from what you’ll find in grocery stores. Sometimes appearing nearly as creamy, it can be hard to determine which flavors are sorbet if not labeled. Ask for a sample, and most every shop will be happy to oblige.
Portland gelato makers are an inventive bunch, utilizing the plentiful local ingredients to create whimsical and sometimes downright brilliant flavors. See below for a highlight of each location’s unique offerings.
Alotto Gelato931 NW 23rd Ave(503) 228-1709
This shop occupies prime space on one of Northwest Portland’s busiest streets. Small and airy, with a few inside seats, the atmosphere here is fast-paced and friendly. Try Stumptown coffee gelato for a smooth and intense scoop. The delicate, pink rose petal flavor leaves your mouth filled with floral perfume. Their fresh banana gelato is rich, and would make for a phenomenal hot fudge sundae. The smallest two-flavor cone is $2.75. Sorbettos are not labeled separately. Sandwiches and espresso drinks are also available.
Mio Gelato25 NW 11th Ave. (503) 226-8002
1517 NE Brazee St.(503) 288-4800
838 NW. 23rd Ave.(503)241-9300
This growing local chain has the largest selection in town. Fresh fruit sorbettos are a lighter way to cool off, and come in a rainbow of flavors. Try fresh fig, tangy apricot or plum for an amazingly concentrated version of the real thing that isn’t too sweet. Gelato flavors are traditional, and prices run $2.75 for the smallest portion of a single flavor. Customer service here can be inconsistent. One woman was cold and dismissive, while the other was warm and welcoming.
Staccato Gelato232 NE 28th Ave. (503) 231-7100
This place is downright fun. Brightly painted psychedelic swirls adorn the wall of this busy gelato shop. There is always an unusual flavor here, like Thai iced tea or blueberry with rose water. Their gelato and sorbetto isn’t super sweet, but it allows the flavors to shine.
Aside from gelato, Staccato has something notable that the other shops do not: on Fridays and weekends, it sells doughnuts that are surely the best in town. Is it possible to make an artisan doughnut? You bet! These beauties are cake doughnuts, and they manage that crispy-meets-tender texture that only a bath it hot oil can provide. Try orange coconut, candied ginger and honey glazed, a kid’s favorite!