The Italian gelato and pastry shop L’Albero dei Gelati opened at 2 pm yesterday and by 2:15 the line was already eight people deep.
It’s easy to understand why. There are the foodies of course, who have been charting the progress of this cultish Lombardy-based mini chain since news of its first American outpost was announced, and who were practically ready with spoons in hand. And then, in greater numbers, are those who were simply drawn from the sidewalk to this irresistible window, reminiscent of a different time or place or both.
Co-owner Fabio Solighetto was onsite to assist at the opening (though he will be returning to Italy shortly, while his sister and business partner Monia takes over), stationed with fellow gelato scoopers at the window. The team, donned in green aprons and matching hair wraps, are eager to guide you through the flavors– all of which are labeled in Italian and English, and many with the ingredients’ provenance.
Flavors range from classics like pistachio, straciatella, chocolate hazelnut, and– Monia Solighetto’s personal favorite– ”Bacio di dama” (a.k.a. “kiss of a dame,” made with a handmade cookie) to some more inventive choices like licorice, yellow bell pepper, and blue cheese. These savory options are remarkable in their fidelity to the flavor of their ingredients, though it is still unusual to experience the taste of bell peppers with the texture and temperature of gelato. Monia recommends pairing it with a nice glass of wine and some cheese.
Luckily enough, wine and cheese are both available once you walk inside. The shop’s interior is a beautifully twee world filled with rustic wooden tables, hand-drawn decorations and cursive scrawling on the wall, and plant life scattered throughout. Seating is available at individual and communal tables, and a wrap-around display case offers pastries, cheeses, meats, and drinks. The kitchen prepares cheese and meat boards, focaccia panini, and morning frittata. The shop also sells some Italian imports that the chefs use themselves like extra virgin olive oil and pistachio paste, plus cookbooks, candies, and more.
Out back is the patio, featuring what just may be the shop’s pièce de résistance: the communal garden table.
Wooden planks and chairs encircle L’Albero’s working garden, filled with aromatic vegetables and herbs like rosemary, lavender, and petunias. It’s something of an Italian tradition, Monia explains.
“It’s a concept that we do in Italy, especially with children, these table gardens,” she says. “It’s so we can sit, and plant, and then taste all together.”
Agriculture is incredibly important to the L’Albero dei Gelati team, and especially the active engagement of both chefs and consumers with it. Information on the cultivation process– part of the Slow Food Presidia– is readily available, and the shop has a wall of individually packaged seeds for purchase.
The space has come together magnificently– an opinion voiced by multiple customers, one of whom welcomed the change from the previously “dark and gloomy” tenant. Of course, ambience itself isn’t enough to keep the people coming; what a relief to find that the products are equally impressive.
I decided on a small cup ($4.50, two heaping scoops) of pistachio and Bacio di dama after nearly filling up on samples of the other flavors. I savored every creamy bite. I also sampled the tuppo, a bread-like pastry filled with chocolate chips which Monia packed in a bag “for breakfast tomorrow” but which could easily become my breakfast most days of the week. If the opening is any indication of the community’s response, I’ll be in good company.
L’Albero dei Gelati is located at 341 Fifth Avenue, (718) 788-2288. Open 8 am to 11 pm Monday through Friday, 9 am to 11 pm Saturday and Sunday.