Although summer is now winding down - and the mornings and evenings for the past few nights have been just delightful - you can always find time for ice cream or any other cold, creamy dessert. When I did a quick stint of life in New England, I remember the Dairy Queens being closed down from October to May because who wants ice cream in the winter in New England?
Thankfully, Phoenix has a great climate and ice cream is always going to be in demand. But in this case, I am putting my backing behind ice cream's cousin: gelato. In Phoenix, the place to go is The Gelato Spot in the Safeway shopping center on the northwest corner of 32nd Street and Camelback Road in East Phoenix.
I remember when gelato first hit the scene back in the 1980s. At the time, I thought it was dreadful because it always seemed grainy to me. The few flavors were okay, but the texture was awful. Still, it was the in thing at the time and very popular.
This time around, however, I am quite pleased with the taste and the texture. In fact, I can't seem to get enough of the offerings at The Gelato Spot. I have been there four times now - both with friends, family, and alone - and have always been tickled pink with my choices.
My first trip was with my friend Dave who introduced me to the place since we passed it up one night when the line was out the door. We parked, walked in and was immediately asked if there was anything we wanted to sample. Each day, The Gelato Spot offers about 30 different flavors from rich, decadent chocolate types to sorbet-like fruit treats. Just point to what you want and a nice chunk of gelato is given to you on a disposable spoon. Try them all, if you wish. The folks at the place don't mind.
Dave ordered a large cup ($4.29) which gets you three scoops which you can mix or match. His selections were the Pistachio, the Raspberry and the Watermelon. I was playing it cautious and ordered a medium cup ($3.39) and got two scoops of Rocky Road. I dove in and it was amazingly good. It was as if I were eating a marshmallow peanut cluster with dark chocolate. The gelato was cold, rich and very flavorful. My only regret was that I didn't get more.
Dave gave me a taste of his choices. The Watermelon was excellent, as though I was eating a piece of watermelon that had just come out of the freezer. The Raspberry was super tart and rich, which I found refreshing, but might overwhelm more sensitive palates. But for me, the standout was the Pistachio. Wow! No, I mean WOW! It doesn't taste like ice cream. It isn't sweet. It tastes like you are eating a handful of chilled Pistachio nuts, complete with a tiny, salty edge. Again... Wow! Dave liked them all, but was less impressed with the Watermelon because he did not like the occasional icy chunks that could be found in the mix.
My next trip found my Dad and I heading there so he could sample the gelato himself. Never separate a Dad from his ice cream. This time, I went with a medium cup again and got the Raspberry and the Lemon. Dad decided to go for the Rum Raisin and the Coconut. My Raspberry was as good as Dave's the first time. The Lemon, however, was divine. Sour, slightly sweet, frosty cold and absolutely wonderful. This would make sorbet feel embarassed. Dad loved the Coconut, but adored the Rum Raisin. He said he knew they were using rum, not run extract, in the mix.
Visit number three found myself going solo. After having tried the "standard" flavors, I threw caution to the wind and went with a large cup of the Roche gelato. Oh. My. Lord. A perfect mix of milk chocolate and hazelnuts. They seriously need to make this stuff into an IV drip. It was incredibly smooth and the balance between the chocolate and the nuts was spot on.
My most recent journey to The Gelato Spot was with Madge. She was determined to have gelato. Who am I to stop her? So we got arrived and Madge was like a kid in a candy store. To be honest, so was I. Madge chose to make her own version of Spumoni and went with a large cup with a scoop of Chocolate, a scoop of Pistachio, and a scoop of Cherry. I copied Madge, but swapped out the Cherry for Vanilla Bean.
Madge was in rare form as she sat silently while savoring every spoonful of her gelato. She found the Chocolate to be smooth, simple and "magnificent." She loved the Pistachio and the fact it wasn't a fake flavor. Her find, though, was the Cherry. "Incredibly intense," she observed. She said it tasted like fresh picked cherries. I would agree with Madge's opinions about the Chocolate and the Pistachio. The Vanilla Bean was incredibly subtle and amazingly smooth.
This little place is a Godsend for the Arcadia/Biltmore area and it has quite a following now. No matter when you go, you will have trouble finding a parking spot and you will stand in line for your chance to try the flavors. However, the line moves fast and there are tables and chairs both inside and outside to accomodate all.
If I had one criticism of the place it would be the compact quarters of the serving line. Theoretically, people would enter from the north entrance and follow the curved display case, placing their order and ending up at the register for payment. However, The Gelato Spot shares a west entrance with the Hava Java coffee place and so people enter from both sides. This does cause some confusion and a lot of crowding. Perhaps the owners could place signs or park stanchions in order to minimize this. But, regardless, it won't keep me from going back in the next few days for some gelato.
I can't say enough about The Gelato Spot because it is amazing. Unless you are a purist and demand that ice cream come in a box or cylinder or come only in Chocolate, Strawberry or Vanilla, I can't imagine anyone being disappointed.
Since they give you samples, you wouldn't have reason to complain anyway.
The Gelato Spot
3164 East Camelback Road
Phoenix, AZ 85016
Notes: Save yourself some grief and enter through the north entrance.