SEALED WITH A KISS
Inquirer Magazine - February 2004
Stephanie Reitano, 33, is telling me about her first gelato kiss: It was in July not quite two years ago on the Isle of Capri, on a stolen holiday with her husband, John, an Italian-born psychiatrist.

They were tired from their flight, looking for a place to eat, marveling at the size of the lemons, watching the women promenade down the cobblestones with their little cones.

This is what the Italians quaintly call la passeggiata, the daily stroll to and from the local gelateria.

Stephanie got a double cone of chocolate-hazelnut gianduia and nocciola, hazelnut alone, and something lit up in this young mother of three, this child of Springsteen country ("I'm from exit 7A on the Jersey Turnpike").

"When it hits your tongue, it immediately melts," she says. "You taste it all, so you get more of that creamy feel."

She doesn't even like ice cream. But she would have two more gelati that day before the moon came up over Capri.

We are talking in her bright basement kitchen at Capogiro, the sexily Italian, everything-first-class gelato shop (even the flaky cones are hand-wrapped Spanish imports) that she and John, 39, opened in December.
Upstairs, a glossy Rossi Dimension gelato case proffering 27 daily-made flavors commands the entry, as voluptuous as an old Jules Verne flying saucer.
Handblown cobalt-blue lamps by Old City glassmaker Hot Soup dangle over a cryscrystalline marble counter. Along Sansom Street, 15-foot windows soar, itching to be flung open to greet the warming spring.

Hefty ceramic mugs of La Colombe coffee are for sale. And pastries from Miel, Le Bec-Fin and Petit 4. And a menu of European sandwiches - baguettes with prosciutto; a muffuletta announced by green-olive spread; tuna and artichoke hearts.

This is the second bite of reality (the first was Trust, the trendy bar) animating developer Tony Goldman's vision of a revived commercial strip that had sunk into criminal disrepair in the hands of blightmeister Sam Rappaport.

Almost anything on that sad corner of 13th Street would have been welcome. That Capogiro (Italian sland for "head-turning" or "whim") has arisen is one more sign that not only is creative entrepreneurship alive in Philadelphia, but the hands-on artisanal impulse as well.

It is as hands-on as it gets down here in Stephanie's kitchen. Each flavor is made from scratch: She poaches the pears; bakes the Sicilian pistachio brittle; melts the Valrhona chocolate; steeps great, craggy heaps of star anise.
New flavors don't come easy: Fresh-pressed apple cider sorbetto didn't catch on until she softened it with a hint of apple butter.
Then early each morning she ties her hair up in her red bandana and adds the flavors to a homemade base of grass-fed milk from Lancaster County farms, spinning small, gallon-and-a-half batches.

A mini-cone taste goes for $2.50; a dish of three flavors, $5.50; a pint, $10. (Did I mention one of my favorites - a lush, sweet Malaga laced with golden raisins drunk on marsala?)

It is the larger proportion of milk (rather than cream) that distinguishes gelato from regular ice cream. That, and the facts that less air is whipped in and that it is kept at a higher temperature, so it isn't frozen hard and solid.

So even with half the fat and calories, you end up with a creamier, richer, far more intense experience.

It's a miracle.

Like a kiss.

- Rick Nichols
Print