December 24, 2009If you've lived here for any length of time, you probably remember Gelato D'Oro, which was associated with the Janus theaters.
(If you have no idea what I'm talking about, I apologize – but Greensboro is one of those places where people, including my wife and me, actually give directions by using historical references. "Come on down Lawndale and turn left onto the road that used to lead to the Janus; if you get to where the Krispy Kreme used to be, you've passed it" – it's a perfectly sensible direction, even though the Janus' former location is now a muddy pit in a vacant lot.)
When we first moved here, the word gelato had the power to make my mouth water. But when we actually tried it, we were so disappointed. It tasted good, and it may have an "ice" rather than "ice cream," but it certainly wasn't gelato. Not that creamy smooth, subtly flavored concoction that is called glace (pronounced "gloss") in France and sorvete (sor-VETCH-ee) in Brazil.
But Gelato D'Oro was hardly alone in offering non-gelato under a false name. I've found the same thing all over America, even in restaurants that should have known better. Only in Santa Monica, California, have I found a couple of gelato shops that offer the real thing.
Well, guess what, Greensboro? We have an authentic gelato now, and not only that, it is extraordinarily good. It would hold its own anywhere in Europe or Brazil.
The name of the shop is Gnam Gnam, which I find clever – it's simply the Italian way of spelling "Nyum nyum." You know, the onomatopoeic sound of deliciousness that is already used in Greensboro by the College Hill diner Yum-Yum.
But if you choose to pronounce the silent G, nobody's going to care. As long as you get inside the door and taste the gelato!
The owners, Selim Oztalay and Denise White, are not Italian. Oztalay is Turkish born (though he speaks American English without a trace of accent), and he and White met in Germany, where they both lived at the time. In other words, they know what the best gelato is supposed to taste like, and meet that standard.
When I asked, "Are either of you Italian," Oztalay said, "No, but the machine we use is!"
The Italian gelato machine is responsible for the absolutely perfect texture – smooth, never gritty with ice – but Oztalay and White are responsible for the absolutely perfect flavors.
The cinnamon is not overdone – the flavor is subtle enough that you can enjoy it on the same cone with other flavors. The lemon is tart tart tart – exactly the way I like it – but you can taste the lemon flavor, and not just the sourness.
Even the grapefruit is delicious – sweetened enough to be palatable, so it can almost convince you that you like grapefruit, even if you don't!
The raspberry is made from real berries, so there are little seedlets as part of the texture of the gelato, and the mango is simply the best I've had.
The tradition is to serve gelato with tiny scoops, about an inch across. But you get plenty of them – and right now, at least, when the weather is cold and the store is new, they have plenty of time to let you put as many as four flavors in a small cup.
When I dropped in for the first time – just as the snow was starting to fall last Friday afternoon – I nobly made the sacrifice of ordering two small cups, each with four flavors. The next day, when I brought my wife to get her first taste, I ordered four more flavors. So I have sampled a dozen flavors and they are, in a word, fantastic.
In fact, theirs might be the best pistachio I've had since I left Brazil in 1973. (The nuts are finely ground, so it doesn't really interfere with the smoothness of the gelato by forcing you to chew.)
The stracciatela (chocolate chip) is exactly right in flavor (though I could wish for the chocolate to be sprayed more evenly through the gelato); the cocoa crunch uses chocolate-covered rice crisps, and may be my favorite; and even the simple chocolate and vanilla are good enough to be worth making a trip to the store.
The folks at Gnam Gnam have a perfect location. The shop is in the same building as Fresh Market, and I imagine the customer overlap is pretty close to 100 percent. Even on a snowy day, people were stopping for gelato on their way into or out of the grocery store – which is what I was doing, and intend to do as often as possible.
A small cup (up to four flavors, remember!) is $3.25 – $3.50 with tax. When you order a hand-packed carton to take home, they put it in a container that remains frozen for at least an hour, even in a hot car on a summer day.
If you do take it home, though, remember that gelato only has its perfect soft smoothness at a temperature warmer than your freezer is likely to have. So get it out of the freezer and uncover it 15 minutes before you're going to serve it.
Gnam Gnam isn't just about the gelato, either. For one thing, they carry the Italian mineral waters from San Pellegrino in orange and lemon flavors ("aranciata" and "limonata"). And there are plans to expand to include pastries in the morning and sandwiches later in the day.
(While coffee and alcoholic beverages are irrelevant to me and my family, I have no reason to suppose that their offerings in those categories are not up to the high standards of the rest of the shop.)
The shop itself is lovely and classy, and since, for the time being, the owners are the servers, their charm and graciousness set the tone for the whole experience. Two weeks into existence, the Gnam Gnam already has regular customers who chat with the owners and each other like old friends, even though they only met when the shop opened!
Folks, gelato doesn't replace ice cream – I'm still going to 31 Flavors and Bruster's. Comparing them is like trying to compare donuts and cake, or muffins and biscuits, or M&M's and Hershey's Kisses. What's the point? They both exist, and I'm glad!