Delicata in Como, St. Paul

Isabel Subtil / Heavy Table

J.D. Fratzke and Matty O’Reilly have been busy. Between summer 2016 and March 2017, they opened two restaurants, Red River Kitchen and Bar Brigade. And now they’ve added Delicata, a casual Italian eatery in the Como neighborhood of St. Paul helmed by Noah Barton (former executive chef at Chino Latino). The newest member of the family has a lot in common with Punch Neapolitan Pizza. Like that local institution, Delicata offers a concise, pizza-focused menu emphasizing fresh ingredients in a family-friendly environment. And like the newer Punch locations, Delicata is counter-service only.

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But this newbie isn’t a knockoff. It adds unique twists to familiar dishes, often with great success (though limited, at times, by poor execution, but more on that in a bit). Take the Antipasto Platter ($12), for example. With sweet, plumped grapes, spicy giardiniera, savory gigante beans, salty cured meats and olives, and crunchy almonds, it’s a delicious adventure in flavor and texture.

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Another starter, the Grilled Artichokes ($7) is a refreshing departure from standard artichoke dips: A quartet of smoky hearts pairs brilliantly with bright, nutty romesco sauce. Heaped on expertly bronzed crostini, the “dip” is spot on. The Big Mixed Salad ($12) also excellently updates a classic: We’d be thrilled if pickled onions, gigante beans, prosciutto, sliced egg, and marinated tomatoes became staples in pizza parlor salads.

Several pizzas showcase the Delicata team’s creativity and commitment to killer ingredients. The humbly named Pork Sausage ($12) is one of the most satisfying pies we can recall. It’s piled high with zesty meat, pillowy ricotta, and tender fennel slices; vibrant oregano and punchy romesco pull the aggressive elements into a cohesive whole.

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The Delicata Pizza, made with the eponymous winter squash ($12, top) is another inventive eye-opener. We were skeptical that combining naturally sweet squash and balsamic vinegar with salty prosciutto and blue cheese would work. But where we expected a power surge, instead we got a great balance of sweet and salty (if perhaps a bit too much blue cheese). A veggie option ($13, above) with artichoke, spinach, feta, and olives on rich red sauce doesn’t break new ground, but it’s as tasty as the more adventurous combos.

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Delicata’s short list of desserts distances the restaurant from the pack. We’d travel far and wide for the Coconut Cake ($6). As one of our dining partners exclaimed, “That’s what dessert should look like — just stupid good.” Topped with small peaks of light meringue, the cake is moist, airy, and just the right amount of sweet. Slightly burnt shredded coconut is the secret not-secret ingredient, adding depth and texture to an already great slice of cake.

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Both types of gelato we tried — pistachio and strawberry ($5 each) — held their own against the pastry. A little less dense and a little creamier than average gelato, these offerings explode with flavor. Given that Delicata bills itself as a pizza and gelato joint, we were surprised that it serves gelato from Sonny’s and Zia’s Gelato rather than make it in house.

Isabel Subtil / Heavy Table

Our excitement about Delicata’s desserts was, nonetheless, unable to smooth over the restaurant’s inconsistency. Some pizzas arrived crisp and adorned with beautiful leopard spots, while others showed up floppy and without char. Depending on the night, the Cheesy Garlic Bread ($5) was unappetizingly greasy or well-balanced and satisfying. Even the Big Mixed Salad varied visit to visit. After winning us over during on our first trip, it bombed on the second — limp greens seemed like they’d been dressed earlier in the evening rather than to order.

Delicata has the right ingredients to become an excellent neighborhood restaurant: a friendly vibe, comfortable indoor seating, a spacious patio, interesting yet approachable food, and rosé on tap. Given Fratzke’s and O’Reilly’s respective track records, we’re confident that Delicata will fix its consistency issues and, with a little luck, enjoy Punch-style success.

Jane Rosemarin edited this story; James Norton has worked closely with Noah Barton at Chef Camp.

Pizzeria and Gelateria in the Como neighborhood of St. Paul

1341 Pascal St
St. Paul, MN 55108
CHEF/OWNERS: Noah Barton / J.D. Fratzke and Matty O’Reilly
BAR: Beer and wine
HOURS: Mon-Fri 4 p.m.-10 p.m.
Sat and Sun 10 a.m.-10 p.m. (Brunch 10 a.m.-2 p.m., beginning Sept 23)

Cow Bella Gelato in St. Paul

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Editor’s Note: Cow Bella Gelato is now closed.

Cow Bella Gelato opened a little over two weeks ago — just in time for fall. But the end of sweaty summer shouldn’t stop gelato fans from enjoying the ultra-fresh, seasonal goods churned daily at this new shop on Grand Avenue.

Owners KaTrina and Paul Wentzel, who also set up The Wine Thief in St. Paul, want to make scratch gelato that rivals the commercial versions you’ll find in Minnesota. Instead of a highly automated mixer, Cow Bella uses a machine that gives the gelato maker a greater amount of control over the entire mixing process. The Wentzels use milk from Autumnwood Farm in Forest Lake and promise fresh, in-season ingredients.

Another way the Wentzels distinguish Cow Bella from other gelato shops is by keeping the final product hidden in shiny containers called pozzetti, instead of displayed in a cooled deli case. The pozzetti are meant to keep the gelato at an ideal temperature, and away from too much light and air. Getting a sample from one of the enthusiastic counter staff (they’re lovely!) is like watching the Candy Man from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory dip into a gleaming cask of mysterious sugary adventure. It’s cool, but kind of a bummer that visitors can’t ogle the goods.

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On our visit to Cow Bella, not every bite had that flawlessly smooth texture gelato is known for. But flavor-wise, Cow Bella does live up to its promise. Their creations are subtle and not too sweet, and they are wonderfully true tasting. You want a frozen treat that tastes just like summer corn? You got it. The limited-time-only sweet corn flavor is a sunny, chewy little number that only loses momentum in its unfortunate icy texture. The goat cheese and fig, while gently tangy and earthy, also misses the texture mark. It’s really more like hand-packed ice cream than creamy gelato.

Cow Bella’s Mango habanero sorbetto is a gorgeous, ass-kicking combination. It’s deeply golden and starts off one hundred percent refreshing and tropical. Then the habanero simmers up from below and snips the end off of each bite.

The shop’s version of the Italian classic gianduja — a mixture of chocolate and bits of hazelnut — is cocoa-y and pleasantly crunchy and showcases the silkiest texture of the lot. Coming in at a close second is the pistachio, whose ultra-creamy base is loaded with al dente chunks of nuts.

One of the most charming flavors turned out to be the Rush River Oatmeal Stout. Like the others, this flavor is understated and real-tasting. A warm, nutty vanilla is backed up by a boozy bass drum of chocolatey beer. It finishes with an almost imperceptible sparkle of carbonation.

Cow Bella’s single-scoop bambino is a great deal at just $1.25. If you’re flavor-happy, the piccolo ($3.85) gets you two giant scoops, and the grande ($5.55) gets you four. The shop keeps about nine standard flavors on hand every day, but visitors can expect more than 16 choices on any given day. It might just be worth the snowy trek come January to see what winter flavors Cow Bella throws our way.

Isabel Subtil / Heavy Table

Cow Bella
Gelato in St. Paul

1700 Grand Ave
St. Paul, MN 55105
For Fall and Winter
Mon-Sat 12pm-9pm
Sun 12pm-7pm
OWNERS: KaTrina and Paul Wentzel
BAR: Espresso

Gelato at Wilde Roast Cafe in Minneapolis

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In July, we dug into the good, the bad, and the icy gelato offerings around town. But it appears one of the genre’s brightest stars escaped our greedy spoons. Yes. There is righteous gelato in the heart of Northeast Minneapolis, on the cobbled stones of Main Street. There is gelato at Wilde Roast Cafe.

Wilde Roast recently moved from their original home across the street from Brasa on Hennepin Ave. to a larger, darker, more luxurious spot on Main Street. It’s there that Pastry Chef Jeff Christianson gets busy in the kitchen crafting scratch gelato that rivals the stuff we love at Pandolfi.

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On weekdays starting at 10am you’ll find at least six flavors on display near the counter ($4 for a single scoop, $5 for a double), and on weekends, all 12 slots in the gelato case are full by 10am, with flavors that rotate from a 24-seat roster. Christianson’s flavors sound ritzy and intriguing, and like any true incarnation of gelato, his is glossy and smooth as can be, melting the moment it touches your tongue with not the slightest ridge or hint of crystallization.

While I was initially turned off by the idea of the licorice (top photo, upper left), it turned out to be totally sigh-worthy. The unmistakable toe-curling anise quality of licorice is fattened and tamed in the sweet embrace of whole milk and sugar. I’m telling you, even the biggest licorice haters will repent at a bite of it.

Gelato in Minneapolis-St. Paul

Gelato at Jackson's
Sarah McGee / Heavy Table

If ice cream and pudding had a baby, they might call it gelato. It’s frozen, it’s silky, it’s custardy. It’s Italian ice cream. But why can’t it play nice with the little tubs of American ice cream in the shop?

Because unlike American ice cream, gelato is churned with a lower percentage of air and made from a mixture of dairy (often milk and cream) that has a lower butterfat content. According to gelato guru Pete Palazzolo of Palazzolo’s Artisan Gelato and Sorbetto in Michigan, “Gelato provides a taste as creamy to the mouth at 8 percent butterfat as its high-air and high-butterfat cousin.” So true gelato feels much more dense and creamy than ice cream, with a flavor that springs forth uninhibited by lots of mouth-coating cream. Gelato’s high density also means that it can be kept at a warmer temperature than American ice cream, which then explains why the first bite yields immediate flavor. Think of the difference between enjoying chilled and room-temperature cheeses. HUGE.

The thing is, many frozen treats masquerade as gelato without ever reaching this gold star standard. “Just like ice cream there are many levels of gelato, from natural to fake,” says Palazzolo. “Ours is made from perishable raw ingredients, but there are many companies selling a powder that is fake, and flavorings are used instead of fresh perishable ingredients.” Here we give you the cold, hard run-down on several of our own gelato spots. (Note: Also check out our follow up with the gelato at Wilde Roast.)

Cafe Kem, $3.07 for a single serving
2524 Nicollet Ave S #101, Minneapolis, MN 55404; 612.208.0254    

Unless you’re about to succumb to heat stroke right outside their door, gelato fans shouldn’t bother stopping at Cafe Kem on Eat Street. They offer fewer choices than other gelaterias, and many of them mimic the precious flavors often found at a cupcake shop (including a boring red velvet). Their Chai flavor wasn’t bad, with generous flecks of cinnamon, but nearly everything else we tried felt like a poor imitation of McDonald’s soft serve, breaking off in icey hunks instead of smooth curls, and marked by a weirdly slick mouthfeel that might come from the pre-made base Cafe Kem buys. The major upside to Cafe Kem is that their single-serving vessels are almost twice as large as the others we’ve seen, and at a comparable price.

Gelato at Jackson's
Sarah McGee / Heavy Table

Jackson’s Coffee and Gelato, $3.25 for a single serving
822 W Lake St, Minneapolis, MN 55408; 612.454.6613

In terms of texture, Jackson’s on Lake Street is doing well. Almost every flavor we sampled had that desired, unbroken silkiness. The Black Chocolate flavor is by far our favorite, with a real cocoa intensity. A fellow taster deemed it “black as the heart of a Disney villain,” and its overall flavor is just as irresistibly dangerous. An espresso flavor perfectly mimicked the toasty quality of the real thing, but could have used a tad more butterfat to lift the flat, almost bitter final note. Both the Key Lime and Wedding Cake flavors were more sweet and innocent than complex and fresh-tasting. Whether Jackson’s secret to smoothness is the gelato base mixes they reconstitute with whole milk, or a perfectly cooled case, is unclear. But it’s hard to argue with the suave, clean finish of these mostly authentic-tasting flavors.

Gelato at Pandolfi
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Pandolfi Candy Gelato and Gifts, $2.99 for a single serving
3904 W 50th St, Edina, MN 55424; 952.928.3000

We’ve already dug on this little candy and gift spot hidden in the shops at 50th and France, and a year after our first review, it’s still the heaviest hitter in Gelato Land. Because really, there’s no substitute for the tingling sensation that tells you the gelato was made with real fruits and fats instead of artificial ingredients. That’s what you’ll find at Pandolfi. They ship their gelato in from Pete Palazzolo himself in Michigan, where gelato is made to order in batches as small as two and a half gallons, and the freshness arrives intact. The classically Italian pistachio is a stunning yellow grass green. Full of whole, soft, chewy nuts, the inherent toasty, meaty quality of sweet pistachios comes right on through. Also, the Limoncello is a zinger. Made with actual liqueur (unlike Fat Lorenzo’s candy-sweet version, we suspect), it zaps your glands the second it touches your tongue, and as it melts it slowly sizzles, like a nostalgic mouthful of Pop Rocks. Impress your friends with a pint, clean your sinuses with a mouthful. This stuff’s amazing.

Other winners include a rich, eggy coconut flavor, filled with healthy shreds of coconut meat, and a bruised blueberry swirled with butter cookies that taste like pie. Pandolfi’s undeniably fresh and innovative flavor offerings make up for an occasional blip in texture. Not quite as smooth as Jackson’s gelato, the stuff at Pandolfi still bears the stickiness of real cream solids. So while their gelato might not win the prize for texture, it tastes blessedly real.

Gelato at Fat Lorenzo's
Sarah McGee / Heavy Table

Fat Lorenzo’s, $3.09 for a single serving
5600 Cedar Ave S, Minneapolis, MN 55417; 612.822.2040

Ah, Fat Lorenzo’s, that goofy corner Italian kitchen off Cedar Avenue, with the flying veggie mural. There’s gelato there too. It’s smack dab in the lobby, bordering the big open kitchen. We’re told that the chef has created over 100 flavors, but what we tasted didn’t bear the mark of a master gelato maker. Each flavor we tried was more icey than luscious. In fact, combining the chocolate chip flavor (which was sorely lacking in chips) with the chocolate malt was like a really expensive McDonald’s twist cone. The pomegranate and limoncello options were saccharine like popsicles, and satisfying in an adolescent way. Like Cafe Kem and Jackson’s, Fat Lorenzo’s gelato is made with whole milk. So while it doesn’t coat your tongue, the lack of that close-knit texture makes Fat Lorenzo’s taste more like Diet Lorenzo’s. Nevertheless, it’s a cheap and appropriate way to finish up a hot slice on the patio.

Ring Mountain Cafe and Creamery, $3.10 for a single serving
1965 Cliff Lake Rd, Eagan, MN 55122; 651.454.7464

Finally, in the furthest reaches of our gelato search is Ring Mountain in Eagan. And it is by far the creamiest specimen we’ve found. Not even one flavor we sampled ran the risk of being mistaken for soft-serve. Over 20 pans of gleaming flavors (next to another 20 or so flavors of ice cream, jump back!) all had that silky, come-hither look that gelato is famous for. And while each bite was as smooth as the last, the flavors were noticeably less fresh tasting than those at Pandolfi. Although pistachio is one of our favorites, we couldn’t stop comparing the false undercurrent and lack of nuts to its much chewier, full-flavored counterpart at Pandolfi. Similarly, the tiramisu option couldn’t hold a candle to the bitter growl of the espresso gelato at Jackson’s. In fact, Ring Mountain’s tiramisu is more like a gorgeously churned version of a novelty Coffee-Mate creamer. Worth the occasional indulgence, but not quite the best. Their mango was the truest flavor we tried, seductive like a Creamsicle that bites back with a piney aftertaste.

Whether you swoon over texture or taste, these shops run the gamut of  variations. It’s just a shame that perhaps the most delightful gelato in Minneapolis-St. Paul’s comes from Michigan. Won’t someone get on that?

Fat Lorenzo's
Sarah McGee / Heavy Table

Girl Scout Cookie Gelato and February 21 Tweet Rodeo

The latest from Twitter: @chowgirls and @BossyAcres suggest hitting up @gaigaithai’s cooking classes @LindenHillsCoop, @PizzaLuce celebrates Fat Tuesday with a deal on their Creole Pizza, @WildeRoastCafe has whipped up some Girl Scout Cookie gelato, and @TCBurgerTour asks for suggestions on the best burger.

Gelato at Pandolfi, 50th & France

Lars Swanson / Heavy Table

Editor’s Note: Pandolfi is now closed.

There’s a great place to get gelato in Edina if you know where to look.  Seriously, it’s not obvious.  From the street you can see neither the store nor any signage.  It’s tucked into the recesses of the shops on 50th & France like a speakeasy, in the tiny alleyway next to the rear entrance of Mozza Mia, just south of the large parking ramp off 49 ½ Street. With the quality of gelato being served there, it’s not likely to stay hidden for long.

Pandolfi Candy, Gelato & Gifts is the brainchild of Jeanne Riha (above). Open for only two and a half weeks now, Pandolfi is a family affair — branded with Riha’s mother’s maiden name and operated with her husband and two young daughters.  It’s a family oriented shop, with all sorts of candies, chocolates, and knick-knack gifts making for an eclectic and welcoming vibe. But the real draw here is two dozen flavors of Palazzolo’s gelato and sorbetto. It’s the only shop in Minnesota to carry it.

“It’s made from scratch and it’s made to order for me,” says Riha. “A lot of gelato is made with a powder that’s reconstituted and you add in the nuts or whatever else.  It’s fine, a lot of gelaterias in Italy do it that way, nothing wrong with that at all.  But I just like that this is made from whole ingredients. And it’s not sitting in a deep freeze for six months before I get it.” After sampling multiple flavors, I can confidently say that the buzz about Palazzolo’s is warranted — it’s top-notch gelato all around.

Lars Swanson / Heavy Table

The Triple Dark Chocolate has a deep flavor with small chocolate chunks — though it’s not quite distinguishable from every other premium chocolate ice cream you’ve ever had.  Instead, try the flavors you’re less likely to see in the freezer aisle. Here’s the money combination: the Coconut gelato, with its light and clean flavor and little strands of coconut, topped with the super refreshing Raspberry sorbetto — wonderfully studded by chunks of partially frozen berries, with a flavor as bright as its color is red.

This author spent four months living above a gelateria in Rome.  After exhaustive gelato study, it’s my opinion that nut flavored gelatos tend to be the best bellwether of a gelateria’s overall success.  Anyone can serve a passable chocolate, but with flavors like pistachio and hazelnut it’s tougher to strike the right balance.  Happily, Palazzolo’s Roasted Pistachio proved quite tasty — a very subtle taste to the gelato itself allows the soft, chewy chunks of pistachio to carry the flavor.  The delicious Mascarpone Caramel Pistachio has been their most popular flavor so far.

Burgers, Gelato, and Morning Roundup

Bill Roehl questions the state of Minnesota restaurant inspection reporting, Dara talks gelato in advance of the opening of Pandolfi in Edina, tragedy strikes the family that owns Maverick’s Roast Beef (which we profiled last week), a write-up on the burgers of King’s Place (our review’s here), an exhaustive look at Asian greens, and a quick guide to the suddenly ripe local strawberry crop.

A Chocolate Head-to-Head and the Morning Roundup

Russell Klein (of Meritage fame) and the St. Paul JCC team up for a Rosh Hashanah cooking class; a gelato touted to be “as sublime as the real deal,” a B.T. McElrath dogfight, Kat of A Good Appetite’s varied menu plan for the week (some people are so good at planning ahead!), and a spotlight on Oak Center’s Earthen Path Organic Farm.