La Paloma, in the west end of Corso Italia, sits across the street from a cemetery and strikes me as an odd place for a gelateria. However, one taste of their gelato is enough to make me realize that location is of little importance.
The spacious store is flooded with sunlight, which reflects off of the smiling faces of patrons young and old. Porcelain gelato sculptures are placed beside soccer memorabilia, which clutter the shelves behind the wall-to wall display case housing the rainbow of goodies. Everything is a tribute to the Motherland and a testament to the great gelato legacy.
My love affair with gelato began years ago in Florence. Under the advice of a local, my travel companion and I wandered tirelessly through the narrow backstreets of the city on the hunt for Perchè No, said to be the best gelateria in Tuscany. Our search led to the creamiest, most intensely flavourful gelato that I have tasted to date. I continued to seek out my initial "high" back home in Canada, but was disappointed time and time again.
That is until I meet Sal, the gelati genius behind La Paloma. Trained as a tailor, Sal quickly realized his passion for gelato and spent a good part of the past forty years trying to capture the tastes from his Sicilian childhood. Along with his son, he achieves just the right balance of creaminess and authentic flavour in his variety of classic favourites to keep customers flocking at all hours of the day.
When I ask whether gelato is just Italian for ice cream? Sal quips: "North American ice cream? Nooo!" I learn that since ice cream is made from whipping cream, air gets trapped during the churning process rendering the consistency much lighter. Gelato on the other hand, is made from milk and natural ingredients, which makes it substantially denser. According to Sal, gelato is much "healthier", because it's made from all natural ingredients.
I'm not sure about the health merits of gelato, but I am willing to suspend my disbelief for the moment being as I devour a mountainous pistachio-coffee mixed cone ($4). The pistachio's distinct buttery quality compliments the aromatic tartness of the coffee. It is rich, velvety and bold in taste. Between the three of us, we try both variations of Pistachio (Siciliano & Real), Walnut, Lemon and Coffee. There is a unanimous moment of silence in our huddle. We are all in a frantic rush against time to consume every last lick before it becomes a wasted, drippy mess.
With over seventy flavours including many sorbet and soy options to choose from, my memories of Florence begin to fade. I will definitely head straight to one of the four La Paloma outlets across the GTA for a bit of Italian nostalgia and my next "pick-me up" treat!