ROME, ITALY – On Via dei Coronari, a picturesque cobblestone street near Piazza Navona, a large, painted wooden ice cream cone marks the way to Rome’s best gelato. Though Rome’s most famous gelaterias like Giolitti, Grom and San Crispino can be identified by long, winding queues 25 tourists deep, it is Gelateria del Teatro that has me coming back for scoop after scoop of ice-cold ecstasy.
Gelateria del Teatro produces edible art – mind-bending gelato flavors made daily, sourced from organic local ingredients. Each bite is a Picasso, a Van Gogh, a Renoir. On any given day you can find up to 40 different flavors ranging from dark chocolate and Nero d’Avola (red wine) to garden sage and raspberry. The complex, inspired, flavors are seasonal; a crisp fall day might yield a scoop of creamy chestnut; on a sweltering August afternoon, tangy white peach. The flavors are intensely real, there’s no other way to describe the sensation that washes over the entire mouth with one tiny plastic spoonful.
The mad scientist behind Gelateria del Teatro is former pastry chef Stefano Marcotulli. He and his wife Silvia opened the gelateria in 2006, taking the traditional Italian specialty to a level of haute gastronomic genius. Together, they conceived a mission to seek out the highest quality all-natural ingredients, from sheep’s milk ricotta to 80% pure chocolate. The flavor combinations run the gamut from classic and simple to the deliciously weird.
On a warm spring day in Rome, I visit Gelateria del Teatro for the umpteenth time and find myself wavering over the rows of multi-colored tubs. It takes me a good ten minutes to narrow thirty six choices down to three. The decision-making process is excruciating. Here are some of the daily flavor choices:
- Apple Cinnamon
- Passion Fruit
- Pear and Caramel
- Sicilian Orange
- White Chocolate and Basil
- Lemon Pie
- Fennel and Caramelized Almonds
- Garden Sage and Raspberry
- Lemon Cheesecake
- Crunchy Sesame
- Ricotta, Almond and Fig
- Vanilla Caramel
- Cheese and Cherry
- Chocolate Fondante and Nero d’Avola
- Sicilian Wine Cream
- Sorrento Walnut
- Vanilla and Pine Nuts
Where does one begin?
Every time I make a foodie pilgrimage to Gelateria del Teatro, I try three different flavors. One of my favorites is “ricotta, almond, fig,” a creamy trifecta that resembles an after-dinner cheese course wrapped up into a single, perfect bite. Sometimes the gelato is wine-spiked; sometimes it’s laced with champagne. On this visit I gaze longingly at the ricotta gelato, but find the strength to resist. Time to venture into new taste territory.
I decide on white chocolate and basil, fennel and caramelized almonds, and crunchy sesame. The white chocolate and basil has a mint-green hue and subtle taste. The basil adds a bright, savory flavor, cutting the richness of the creamy white chocolate. The crunchy sesame takes me back to my childhood, when I used to suck on those sweet, individually wrapped sesame candies. The gelato is toasty, crunchy and wonderfully unique. Out of my three choices, I like the fennel and caramelized almond the best. I’m a sucker for almond anything. The fennel is the opposite of overpowering, giving the gelato an almost imperceptible hint of flowery anise. The candied almonds remind me of Sicilian street vendors and summer nights at the beach.
The experience at Rome’s Gelateria del Teatro borders on mystical, but there is no DaVinci Code to crack when it comes to the secret of making this exceptional gelato. It’s possible to arrange a visit during morning hours to watch the masters at work, hand-crafting each extraordinary flavor.
When in Rome, take a moment to duck away from the crowded piazzas. Head down Via dei Coronari and keep your eyes peeled for the ice cream cone. There, tucked in an alleyway beside a steep stone stairway, you’ll find the almost-secret entrance to the sweetest spot in town.
Gelateria del Teatro
Via di San Simone, 70 Rome, Italy
Telephone: 06 45474880