Know what “gelato” means in English?
“Ice cream.” That’s kind of a letdown.
Ah, but there are differences. Gelato has less fat and more sugar than ice cream. Gelato is richer and denser; ice cream is airier and creamier — in large part because gelato is churned slowly and ice cream is churned fast.
Need I explain why I think early/mid-August is a good time to conduct a gelato Friday Food Fight? I think not. But just in case: weather hot, gelato cold.
I’ve chosen a couple of places that specialize in this distinctly Italian dessert. Mammamia Gelato Italiano in St. Pete’s Grand Central District, and Paciugo Gelato & Caffe near the downtown waterfront. Both are located on the bottom floor of residential buildings.
MAMMAMIA GELATO ITALIANO
This cute and immaculate gelateria opened in October 2021 in the Artistry building on Central Avenue between 16th and 17 streets.
Mammamia’s Italian-ness is legit. The company is based in Naples and, according to its website, has been making “traditional artisan gelato since 1911.” The St. Pete store is a franchise owned by Patrick Lefevre, a Frenchman who was raised in West African country of Côte d’Ivoire and learned gelato-making in the Boot of Europe. He forges his product in-house with ingredients shipped from Italy.
At 8 p.m. on Tuesday, a slow stream of folks stopped by to pick up frozen treats. While the summer scorch had abated considerably, we opted to sit indoors — in large part to avert serious meltage while I took photos.
I ordered a large cup ($10.14) with three scoops: Dark Cioccolato, Tiramisu and Mammamia, a blend of vanilla, chocolate, hazelnut and pistachios.
Texture and Taste
The dark chocolate was thick and velvety, with an intense but not overpowering flavor. I liked it a great deal, but any more than a third of the large sampler cup would’ve been too much.
The tiramisu, on the other hand, was notably lighter and airier. Its flavor was milder — pleasant, but I had to use my imagination to detect tiramisu.
The Mammamia had a little too much going on flavor-wise, so it lacked definition. But hey, it was a sweet, cold treat on a hot summer’s night. I don’t want to nitpick too much.
I was happy to let the flavors melt into each other (and over the sides) and join together on the spoon.
PACIUGO GELATO & CAFFE
Uh oh. Wednesday, 3:30 p.m., high sun, sidewalks blistering on Beach Drive, the parking attendant at BellaBrava about to spontaneously combust — and inside, not a seat in sight. The counter guy, exquisitely tatted, was very helpful, handing me a sample spoon of dark chocolate without my asking. He told me that the gelateria, which has been around several years, is locally owned and the product made in-house.
I ordered a large (excuse me, Grande) cup ($7.25) with three flavors: Fondente (dark chocolate, for a direct comparison with Mammamia), Strawberry Cheesecake and Cannoli. Outside we went. Let the melting proceed! It did — quickly — even though we were in shade.
I took the main pics (see photo at the very top) indoors. Pieces of strawberry from the cheesecake flavor added a dash of color. Also, the chocolate was not near as dark as its counterpart. The brightly colored, translucent spoons were a cool touch. The logo’d cup was a shade smaller than Mammamia’s.
Like an aging diva under hot stage lights, this helping of gelato didn’t take long to wilt. I struggled with the rapid meltage, and immediately upon finishing had to wipe up an unholy mess, then dart to the restroom to rinse my hands. The next morning, I cleaned my cell phone with an alcohol wipe. (Bonnie told me that I have a poor ice cream/gelato eating technique. Hey, Hon’ — I get the licking part, but this was a cup not a cone.)
Texture and Taste
The messiness did not inhibit my enjoyment.
The dark chocolate was not as exotic as the one at Mammamia, but it was lighter and easy to eat. (It could’ve been a tad more chocolate-y.)
The cannoli mimic’d the taste, and even the texture, of that other heavenly Italian dessert. Mmmm-hm.
The strawberry cheesecake emerged as the star among the six characters in this episode. The chunks of fruit were nice but not necessary. All the flavor — remarkably evocative of actual cheesecake (but colder and meltier) — was packed into the creamy, white(-ish) stuff, no pink swirls required.
And the Winner of the Gotta Lotta Gelato Contest Is …
I hate to pick one, but …
Paciugo Gelato & Caffe.
Both places proved eminently enjoyable — and delizioso. Mammamia’s gelato was more exotic — and I get the sense it was more authentically Italian — while Paciugo’s landed more easily on my palate. Mammamia’s portion was bigger (shareable), but a bit more expensive.
Most important in a close contest, Paciugo produced the star attraction with the Strawberry Cheesecake.
Mammamia had the better vibe, a place you could hang out for a while. As for Paciugo: There’s room for at least a couple of two-tops under AC. The gelato cart inside the door is charming, but the space could be put to better use. At least during summer.