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Gelato (Italian for ice cream) is both a little bit more and a little bit less than the premium ice cream Americans are used to. It's whipped up with less air, so each spoonful seems creamier, denser and heavier than what you get at Marble Slab or Mary Coyle. While portions are smaller (at least by volume, if not weight), you'll quickly discover that a little bit of gelato goes a long way. This Scottsdale place is one of 50 or so links in a nationwide chain that started in San Francisco. In fact, the gelato is shipped in weekly from California. The offerings here are very rich. The reverse chocolate chip is addictive--deep-chocolate ice cream studded with white-chocolate chips. Peanut butter chocolate and caramel pecan both feature big, chunky fillings. Coconut macadamia is a refreshing way to beat the heat. Mocha almond fudge and mocha chip are topnotch coffee-chocolate blends. But I wish the cookies and cream had been blended with something a little more interesting than Oreos. And the crunch in the carmello chocolate crunch was nonexistent. Don't look for jars of toppings or a display case full of mixings here. And don't bother with the forlorn waffle cone, either. Gelato is best downed unadorned. But I'm not sure I like downing it here. This store didn't sparkle with the pristine spiffiness I associate with ice cream parlors. The water fountain was out of order and the tables were sticky. Neither did the rest room inspire confidence. Gelato is positioned as a chic, upscale product. Give it the setting it deserves. Bavarian Alps Old World Ice Cream, Biltmore Fashion Park, 2452 East Camelback, Phoenix, 957-8716. Hours: Sunday through Thursday, 10 a.m. to 10:30 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 10 a.m. to 11:30 p.m.
Sometimes, we journalists ask questions that we really don't want to know the answer to. The woman behind the Bavarian Alps counter must have sensed this unease when I asked her how much butterfat there was in the homemade ice cream. "Don't ask," she said, smiling. She's right. It really doesn't matter, especially with the alpine white chocolate almond ice cream I scarfed down. This is probably the single-best-tasting ice cream flavor I sampled during my entire binge. Swiss almond chocolate and butter pecan were just about as good, studded with lots of sweet, crunchy goodies. Pralines and cream, chocolate peanut butter, and mud pie combined rich texture with deep, long-lasting taste. The marble fudge brownie and cookie dough, however, seemed deficient on the brownie-and-cookie-dough fillings. But Bavarian Alps doesn't seem like much of a "let's get in the car and drive there" kind of place. That's because there's no cool seating inside, except for an uncomfortable little bench. You'll have to consume your ice cream outside, at one of six umbrella-topped tables. The umbrellas will protect you from the sun, but not from the thermometer or the humidity. Need to use a rest room? The help will give directions to the Coffee Plantation, about 100 yards east. And how can an ice cream place run out of waffle cones in the middle of a summer weekend? That's like a Las Vegas casino running out of quarters during a slots tournament. Bavarian Alps makes great ice cream. And for folks wandering around the shopping center, it's a cool stop. But on sweltering August days, it may not be cool enough to justify fighting the traffic at 24th Street and Camelback.
2045 E. Camelback Road
Phoenix, AZ 85016
Region: East Phoenix
Cold Stone Creamery, Hilton Village, 6137 North Scottsdale Road, Scottsdale, 998-1385. Hours: Sunday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.
This store, part of an expanding local franchise, seems to have everything going for it. It's spic-and-span, with an icy-cold water fountain and a sparkling rest room. There's ample seating, inside and out. There are luscious, homemade waffle cones, too, made right before your eyes, rolled in thick chocolate, with coatings of Butterfingers, Heath bars, nuts and sprinkles.
What's the problem? At first, it's confusion. Look into the display case, and you'll see only a half-dozen or so dull flavors. Pretty skimpy, I thought. Later, I discovered that these flavors--like sweet cream, French vanilla, and chocolate--are used as a base to create more exotic ice cream combinations. But neither the menu board nor the help gave us a clue about this. I got the message only after I idly picked up a flier from the counter.
Second, watching how these new creations were fashioned gave me pause. For example, when I asked for rum raisin, I watched the server take out a scoop of sweet cream, throw in some raisins and squeeze on some liquid from a small, plastic tube. While I'm not the world's most squeamish guy, I don't particularly want to see adolescents squeezing things on my ice cream. And why go to the trouble of whipping up fresh, rich ice cream and then put the all-important flavoring operation into the hands of minimum-wage workers? And I suspect this seat-of-the-pants flavoring contributed to the low-intensity taste. This ice cream is certainly rich enough, but it packed less taste wallop than any of the others I tried. In fact, it helped me put an end to my lost weekend. But I think I've licked my ice cream problem. I'm ready to face the world, one scoop at a time.