A Spot o' Gelato: Part I
When it's this hot, my weekends blur into a strict underwear-only dress code, accented tastefully with a cold can lodged against my neck. I resolve to hunker down in my apartment until the sun sets. I am like a vampire ... without the yen for blood, of course. When it's this hot, there are few things powerful enough to dislodge me from the direct path of my swamp cooler and make me put "real" clothes on, and one of them is ice cream. Beer is another. Smoothies are in there somewhere, too.
I'm not alone in this summer ritual. I know because when I'm finally compelled to go on that ice cream/beer/smoothie run, I see you standing next to me in line. Oh, it's easy to spot one of my own. We wear rumpled, uncoordinated clothing. We shift our weight from one flip-flopped foot to the other as we stare, befuddled, at a wall of flavors. We're hot and hungry. We can't quite figure out what to get. And deciding just got harder.
Not one, but two gelaterias (jel-AH-ter-EE-uhs) opened in Albuquerque at the end of July. Both serve gelato (jel-AH-toe), the Italian ice milk dessert that's similar to ice cream but lower in fat and calories. (Gelato is made with whole milk instead of heavy cream. There's also less air whipped into it. The end product should have a smooth texture and a flavor that's more "clean" and "bright" than traditional ice cream.) Both businesses are independently owned and operated. Both offer far-from-ordinary flavors that change daily and are made with fresh ingredients right on the premises. Let a late summer of head-scratching satisfaction begin!
Ecco Espresso and Gelato is in Nob Hill, just a few storefronts east of the Guild Cinema at 3409 Central NE. Ecco is the sister shop of Santa Fe's year-and-a-half-old Café Ecco (105 E. Marcy, 505-986-9778). They are owned by Matt Durkovich, who is something of a purist. For one, he studied gelato-making under a man named Luciano Ferrari. "I'm going to name my children after him," Matt says, still impressed by the man's quintessentially Italian name. Matt then spent four weeks kicking around Rome, Milan and Italy's Chiavari region, absorbing everything he could about the old-world arts of gelato, sorbetto (aka sorbet) and hand-pressed espresso. He brought a deep knowledge of all three back with him to Santa Fe and is excited about sharing it with people in Albuquerque.
"These four blocks are the heart of the state," he says. "We really wanted to be with a part of it." He's transformed the Nob Hill space into a clean, modern Italian café with yellow plastered walls, big mirrors and plenty of seating.
Ecco crafts an astounding 120 flavors of gelato, including lemon-basil, balsamic-strawberry and stracciatella—light vanilla with a hand-ribboned swirl of dark chocolate. On a day-to-day basis, they make 22 of them available, four of which are nondairy, fat-free sorbets.
"Everything's made fresh daily with no bases, no powders, no mixes or chemicals. We use all-natural ingredients and as much organic as possible." Matt says he's also a "big fan" of using local produce and ingredients.
"There are a lot of corners you can cut, and we refuse to do that," he says. "And there's more to come." I can actually hear him winking over the phone.
Ecco is open 7 a.m.-10 p.m. weekdays, and until at least 11 p.m. on weekends. Call 268-0070 to ask about today’s flavors.
Tune in to next week's "Dish" for a profile on Albuquerque's second new Gelateria, hidden away in another part of town.