Crossing over Hempstead Turnpike headed south on Franklin Avenue into Franklin Square, you’re greeted for the most part by blue collar storefronts featuring a certain and undeniable air of industrial manufacturing. But that slate of gray and brown got an injection of brightly hued color with the opening of Dolce Cafe & Gelateria this past July.
Serving freshly made, small-batch gelato, pastries from Queens-based Italian bakeries and gelato shakes, along with Italian sodas and various coffee and espresso preparations, Dolce was opened by brothers Danny and Vito Altesi, with an assist from veteran gelato maestro Salvatore Potestio. Together, the triumvirate have apparently touched on something special at the corner store—as evidenced by a steady flow of customers ordering dessert at around 6 p.m., a time typically reserved for dinner.
“The gelato is made fresh every day with real ingredients,” said Danny Altesi, adding that Dolce uses all natural ingredients, with no artificial flavoring and no preservatives. “This is real Italian gelato, with nothing artificial. What you see on the label is what is in the gelato.”
And Altesi means that literally. The special this particular week, peach, is dotted with flecks of real peach, bringing a textural flow to each bite. The same can be said for the pistachio, which tastes like actual pistachio nuts because that is what Dolce uses to make it. Other popular flavors include rainbow cookie, fig honey, fresh strawberry, Ferrero Rocher chocolate, mint chocolate, vanilla bean, peanut butter and more. Dolce also offers a rotating array of specials changing from week to week, like spicy chocolate and fresh banana.
Cups and cones are $4.95 for two flavors and $5.95 for three flavors. But for a taste of Sicily, order your gelato scooped into a freshly baked brioche bun for a cold bite that enhances the intense creaminess of the gelato. And as the calendar begins to inch toward colder months, Dolce will begin serving crêpes as part of a menu that the owners expect to be ever-expanding.
The cafe itself has plenty of seating and is decked out in offbeat art and stylish lighting. Outdoor seating, while limited at the moment, will continue to grow as Dolce establishes itself in the neighborhood.
Gelato vs. Ice Cream
Yes, gelato is the Italian word for ice cream—but there are actual differences between the two other than language. Gelato starts with a similar custard base as ice cream, but it is made with milk and only a few flavors have any cream at all—and by the way, gelato made with water is sorbetto. Gelato is also churned at a much slower rate, incorporating 35 percent less air than ice cream, which creates a much more intense flavor that is creamier with a denser consistency. And for anyone worried about their waistline, there is up to 75 percent less butterfat in gelato than in ice cream and it is 1/3 the calories of ice cream. Go ahead and get that third scoop.
Gelato Through Time
“Eat and drink, the sun is torrid and you can cool down.” That quote is from the Bible and it was uttered by Isaac as he handed a mix of goat’s milk and snow to Abraham. While that’s not exactly gelato (or ice cream), you can take that as a biblical order to enjoy the sweet and cool treat in the summertime.
The historical data on gelato is limited to mostly hearsay and anecdotes, but by all accounts it dates back to the 16th century when it was churned in Italy using fruits, creams and other flavors. As most (internet) sources say, the inventor of gelato and sorbet as we know it was Bernardo Buontalenti, a native of Florence. But while Buontalenti exclusively served his gelato to the highfalutin corners of society, it was a Sicilian by the name of Francesco Procopio Dei Coltelli who was the first to sell the product to the public. He even opened his own café in France, appropriately called, Café Procope.
Gelato Today & Tomorrow
Luckily, that long tradition of gelato was passed on from Italian to Italian and one of the establishments we’ve ended up with is Dolce Cafe & Gelateria. Take a drive to Franklin Square and get a taste of gelato—it’s everything ice cream wishes it was.
Dolce Cafe & Gelateria, 220 Franklin Ave., Franklin Square, 516-673-4994, www.dolcegelatonyc.com. Hours 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., Monday through Thursday, and until 11 p.m. Friday through Sunday.