Il Laboratorio del Gelato offers a variety of surprising flavors in light European style gelato and sorbet.
I noticed the lines of people outside the Montclair, New Jersey location before I even noticed the name of the business on the awning. It piqued my curiosity. When I noticed it was a gelato place, I thought I’d try it out.
What is gelato? The establishment’s website offers an explanation. Gelato is Italian for ice cream, but that can mean different things in different regions of Italy. Southern Italy developed an icier version, partly because eggs and cream were less affordable and partly because an icier version was more refreshing. Northern Italy developed a creamier, custardy ice cream. Even so, gelato is generally lighter than American style ice cream.
The place offers more than twice the 31 flavors of Baskin Robbins, and some very surprising ones too. As a first timer, I decided to go for novelty, choosing flavors I had not seen elsewhere. They did offer me some samples on a spoon, to help me with my flavor decisions.
I went for fresh mint and carrot gelato, a scoop of each, that is. Maybe, mint is not so unusual for an ice cream flavor, but the carrot certainly seemed different. I asked if it was like carrot cake, and the girl behind the counter said, “No,” as she offered me a spoonful. It doesn’t have the cinnamon or spice flavor of carrot cake. It might seem odd to many American minds, but when you consider that carrots have a lot of natural sweetness and that we already make a dessert from them with carrot cake, it isn’t quite so strange. My third flavor choice was an orange hibiscus sorbet, which, instead of being an orange color, was more of a deep burgundy.
Serving sizes were conservative to say the least, by American standards. I ordered three scoops in a cup. The photo, with all its zoom, might not give you much of an idea of size, but it is small. I would say it is less than half the size of what would be considered “a cup” at American ice cream chains like Baskin Robbins or Carvel. It was also $6 for that small serving, so this is high end gourmet fare.
I don’t know if this is more of a European sense of sizing or something else. I was reminded of two things. I was reminded of this kind of cliché we have about fine dining where there is a tiny serving beautifully presented on a large plate like below.
I was also reminded of an incident from when I was teaching English in Hungary one summer in the ’90s. With my very, very limited Hungarian and, holding one thumb up for “one,” I ordered a single scoop of ice cream in a cone. The girl behind the counter put in one scoop, and it didn’t even come past the edge of the cone. Hugely disappointed, I held up two fingers and asked for two scoops. That was definitely not an American concept of a scoop of ice cream, even if it was a literal scoopful. It’s not a scoop of ice cream until it is at least a mound on top of the cone.
So, the sizing was interesting, but read on. It was not an altogether disappointing experience.
The fresh mint was very refreshing and subtle without being overwhelming or seeming like candy cane. (They do have a candy cane flavor also, it turns out.) The carrot was sweet and carrot-like, but when I was eating absent-mindedly, I would forget it was a carrot flavor. It just seemed like a light, fresh and sweet dessert. The sorbet was icy and a nice, tangy sweet orange flavor with just a hint of the hibiscus.
In spite of the smaller size, I was also eating with a tiny spoon and savoring every bite. It wasn’t gone in an instant. When I was finished, it felt like just enough, and I didn’t feel guilty about my indulgence. It felt refreshing and satisfying.
There are only two more locations of Il Laboratorio del Gelato, and they are both in New York City, one in Greenwich Village and one in the lower east side.
I thought I would name a few more of the interesting flavors. The gelato flavors come in several categories such as cheese/savory, chocolate, fruit, grain/cereal, nut, spice, spirits/liqueur/beer, sweet, tangy and vegetal/herbal. Would you try a Grape Nuts flavored ice cream? How about cucumber, beet, basil, olive oil, cheddar cheese, pink peppercorn or wasabi? How adventurous are you?