Tuesday, May 7, 2013

D’Ascenzo’s Gelato: 2012’s Best of the Main Line

            The sweet, sugary smell of homemade waffle cones wafts down the alley of D’Ascenzo’s Gelato on E. Gay Street in downtown West Chester. Resembling a piazza along the canals of Venice, complete with the smooth sounds of Frank Sinatra playing through outdoor speakers, this tucked away seasonal specialty dessert shop is a hidden gem for those with an exquisite sweet tooth.
            The storefront is packed with customers sampling from a variety of flavors before creating their perfect combination in a cup or cone. Kristin D’Ascenzo, co-owner of D’Ascenzo’s Gelato, located across from Doc Magrogan’s Oyster House and next to iPasta, sticks a spade deep into a pan of creamy gelato and, in one swift motion, hands a customer a perfectly swirled cup of Stracciatella gelato, a classic Italian crème with chocolate chips.
The crowd gathering inside is chattering about which flavors are the best, which they’d like to try, and how the cute and cozy alley-way lined with chairs reminds them of their trip to Italy. While the shop is loud and excited, the overall atmosphere is calm, cool and collected as Kristin takes orders.
Glenn D'Ascenzo, the other half of the Dynamic Duo is in the kitchen multitasking: a fresh waffle cone in the waffle press and his free hand holding the electric hand mixer as he whips up a batch of gelato. Its green color can only mean one thing: Green Mint Chip, definitely a crowd pleaser.
            “So, you make the gelato yourself?”
            “Yes, I even pasteurize the milk”, says Glenn, who makes all the gelato on premise. “We get a big order of milk delivered once a week from a local West Chester purveyor, Bailey’s Farm.”
            Glenn and Kristin had a mile high romance. Literally! Both were flight attendants for U.S. Air. During a flight from Charlotte, NC to Seattle, WA in September of 2000, Glenn and Kristin met and immediately bonded.
Only a year after meeting, the two took a romantic trip to Rome, where their passion for gelato began. The rest is sweet, sweet history…

So, what exactly is gelato?
Gelato is "ice cream" in Italian. So, many people do not know the various differences between this decadent dessert and a pint of Ben and Jerry’s. Gelato is made with mostly whole milk; in comparison to ice cream, which is made with mostly heavy cream, gelato has a lot less fat.
Ice cream also contains eggs or egg yolk. Some gelato shops minimize the amount of egg used. At D’Ascenzo’s, they use none. Sugar levels are also drastically cut back. If you’re constantly checking nutrition labels and are looking for a healthier and tastier alternative to ice cream, gelato is the way to go.
During the freezing process, gelato is churned at a slower speed. This ensures that a lot less air is being pumped into the frozen treat, making it denser than ice cream, which is whipped at a much faster speed.
            The key factor in the difference between gelato and American ice cream is the temperature at which each is stored and served. Gelato is kept at a higher temperature than ice cream, which makes it super soft and creamy. More like sticking a spoon into a jar of homemade frosting than a cup of solid ice cream! If ice cream is kept at a higher temperature, the high fat content would turn it into a melted, liquid mess.
How did D’Ascenzo’s end up in historic West Chester?
            “We actually tasted our first gelato in Italy”, said Kristin, smiling as she remembers her first of many trips to Italy, where Glenn learned how to make gelato.
The Dynamic Duo created D’Ascenzo’s Gelato in Chestnut Hill, Philadelphia at a farmer’s market in 2004, a year after the couple got married. Their Chestnut Hill location was a mobile cart that they still use at events in West Chester. Realizing their true potential as a booming business in a thriving historical county, Glenn and Kristin opened the shop in West Chester in April of 2011.
The shop is open seasonally, from the end of March or beginning of April to October, but frequent flyers are sure to get their fair share before the shop closes for the season! Regulars even post comments on the D’Ascenzo’s Gelato Facebook page.
One customer wrote: “Are you open? If no, please open soon...I literally am going to spend my bonus on buying gallons worth of your bananas foster and caramel sea salt the second I walk in the door; I hope you have back-stock...it's #1 and #2 on my 'best things I've ever tasted' list.”
If you attend the events in town, you’ve probably seen the mobile cart (with quite the lengthy line of customers) in the street at the Restaurant Festival or Up on The Roof.

Indulge in Many Decadent Flavors
In 2012, D’Ascenzo’s won Main Line Today’s Best of the Main Line for Best Gelato. This season, D’Ascenzo’s was listed among the Best Desserts in the WC Press. And with 24 flavors filling the case at a time, it’s no wonder why. If you’re in the mood for a creamy, rich treat, try the Caramel with Sea Salt with the Peanut Butter. The sweet and salty combination plus the chocolate chips added to the Peanut Butter is a savory burst of flavor your taste buds will thank you for.
The Dark Chocolate, which is the color of licorice and made with pure dark cocoa, will leave your mouth covered in a gooey, delicious black mess you’ll grin about. (Hopefully you have someone to tell you how ridiculous you look smiling with dark chocolate oozing from your teeth!)
For those with dairy allergies or those who are just craving a refreshing palette cleanser on a hot summer day, D’Ascenzo’s has many different sorbets. Dairy free but still bursting with flavor, the Blackberry Cabernet Sorbet is sure to cool you down. Pair it with the Limoncello Sorbet made with homemade Limoncello and you will never crave a Rita’s Water Ice ever again! 

For the gelato experts and European travelers (we know you’re out there!) with a keen taste for the unusual flavors, sample the Avocado gelato, Balsamic Strawberries with Marscapone gelato, Lemon Basil Sorbet, and Rose Petal gelato. For the kids: Cookies & Cream or plain, albeit scrumptious, Milk Chocolate.
Whether you are a West Chester local or just here for a quick visit, don’t miss out on the perfect summer (or anytime!) treat. Enjoy dinner at one of the many restaurants in town and then head down Gay Street for dessert! With prices ranging from $4-$20 and made with only the best ingredients delivered from Italy, D’Ascenzo’s Gelato and its friendly owners will have you coming back for more...and more…and more!