Her nose pressed to the chilled glass of a gelato case, a towheaded girl in teal Keds raised up onto her tippy toes to scan every last fruit-laden, chocolate-drizzled metal tray. After laboring considerably over her decision, she decided on a dark berry concoction. Savoring her prize, the girl meandered back to a table full of adults. Astoundingly, for a cafe named after and peddling rich Italian ice cream, she was the only kid in sight.
At Gelato Cafe in Meridian, it's more about the big kids. It's the only ice cream shop with a full bar I've seen outside of Italy. Gelato Cafe takes a dessert that already cracks the awesomeness scale, feeds it 3 ounces of booze, then watches the scale's springs go flying. Though the place also serves an array of Italian deli food, gyros, fresh sushi, coffee and smoothies, the gelato martinis are the joint's glimmering golden calves--sinful concoctions demanding fawning idolatry with each liquor-laden sip. Divided into fruity and creamy varieties, the martini menu urges you to pop the top button of your jeans and get comfortable with options like the Dreamsicle ($7)--orange juice, vodka, triple sec, amaretto and milk poured over orange gelato--or the Extra Chocolate ($7) with vodka, Bailey's, vanilla and dark chocolate shaken with chocolate gelato. The cafe even named a particularly decadent martini the Wet Dream (with vodka, Kahlua, Bailey's and stracciatella gelato) after an editor's pick in BW's 2008 Best of Boise.
Strutting up to our tall pistachio green table with matching velour chairs on a recent Tuesday evening, a broad-jawed man with wisps of gray in his dark hair introduced himself as Brian Wetzel, head busboy, though we deduced he was the owner. Wetzel's joking rapport quickly charmed my dining companions. While we ogled the martini menu, Wetzel let fly a truism I'm sure he's used on plenty of past patrons: "Gelato martinis are like women's breasts: one's too little and three's too much." After an awkward chuckle, we decided to save the groping for dessert and ordered a bottle of Salmon Creek chardonnay ($12). Though we had made the trek out to the Elm Tree strip mall in Meridian hoping to throw back a few Superb Sushi rolls, we found out that the cafe is sadly sans sushi on Mondays and Tuesdays.
The Mediterranean pizza ($6.75) arrived first, with charred bubbles of mozzarella hugging wine-cured kalamata olives and sun-dried tomatoes. The second pizza, the artichoke veggie, was a white and green beauty with pesto, chopped artichoke hearts, three types of cheese and fresh scallions scattered on top. While the salad ($6.75) provided a nice, not overly dressing-laden crunch, it didn't stray too much from the classic Caesar theme. The pizzas were also winners, not too cheese heavy with thin chewy crusts. Unfortunately, the pizza's slightly gourmet, hand-crafted taste was thrown off by the vessel it arrived on--a thick white paper plate. A quick scan of the restaurant's interior showed the same conflicting aesthetic. A kitschy toddler-sized ice cream cone statue lingers in one corner, while a grown-up leafy indoor plant occupies the other. Cartoony painted sandwiches float on the front windows, yet the walls are adorned with tasteful paintings. As random as the decor and menu seemed, with our dinner polished off and gelato martinis in hand, everything started to make sense. When I return on a non-Monday or Tuesday evening for a Crane Creek roll and a gelato margarita, I imagine it will begin to make even more sense.
--Tara Morgan says, "Domo arigato, Mr. Gelato."
Gelato Cafe takes its name from the rainbow of gelato presented in a chilled case placed at the center of the strip mall restaurant. There, pans of the cold confection are displayed like an edible kaleidoscope accented with chocolate drizzles and fruit-flavored swirls, swooped peaks and whimsical garnishes.
In addition to frozen dessert, espresso beverages and gelato martinis, the fast-food-style cafe's Italian/Greek menu offers nine pizzas ($6.75), pitas ($5.95), gyros ($4.75) and submarine sandwiches ($4.75-$6.95) with salami in dry and Genoa versions, cappicola, roast beef, Black Forest ham, and fresh mozzarella. It also offers sushi at the Superb Sushi counter inside.
To sushi or not to sushi? Superb Sushi's mother ship is in downtown Boise, and having eaten there before, I removed this tempting satellite from my initial assessment. Afterward, I wished I hadn't.
I selected a 9-inch garlic chicken pizza while my husband chose a beef and lamb gyro (with feta, 60 cents extra). We hopped aboard the largest four-top in the dining room: four stylishly modern pub chairs upholstered with lime green micro-suede and an oversized pub table topped with lime green laminate.
The pizza's thin, stiff crust tasted like a cross between a cracker and a dry tortilla. Pale chicken breast chunks and the whiteness of melted mozzarella and fontina cheeses formed a visually bland canvas sparingly topped with shriveled slices of baked red onion, flecks of bacon and diced tomato. As I evaluated the dish before me, I noticed most of the other patrons digging into colorful sushi rolls. I wished I had chosen to sushi.
The gyro was large enough to require both hands to manage it and earned a solid seven on a scale of one to 10. My husband only wished it had more tzatziki sauce on it (50 cents extra). On our way out the door, we ordered a small cup of sweet-tart lemon gelato ($1.95) and it just about made up for the pizza.
My next visit to the cafe was for Superb Sushi and gelato martinis.
Be warned: Choosing a martini ($7) was tough. Lemon? Orange Dreamsicle? Bailey's with cookies and cream liqueur, perhaps? I suppose one could order according to the weather: light and fruity on sunny days, rich and creamy on gray ones. A grapefruit gelato martini was the right choice for the warmth of the spring day on my second visit.
Be further warned: Each of those suckers contains 3 ounces of booze, so have the number for a taxi handy just in case.
Sushi was another tough choice. My all-time favorite roll from Superb Sushi is the unconventional Dragon's Eye roll ($6.99). Thin strips of fresh lemon rind are a classic complement to salmon and whole scallion wrapped simply in rice and nori. Lemon sauce squiggles atop slices that are not too thick, making them easy to consume in one lady like bite. I also like the enormous Sumo Roll ($11.99). Made with ahi, unagi, crab and avocado, it is large enough to satisfy a ravenous student out on lunch break.
I selected one Dragon's Eye roll and then also tried the Insane roll ($8.99). Biting into it, a pandemonium of sensation erupted on my tongue as fresh jalapeno pepper tangoed across my palate with spicy salmon, while dried red chile pepper flakes wrestled with wasabi and Sriracha hot sauce for dominance. Tempura shrimp, sliced avocado and lemon sauce tempered the insanity and kept the spicy lunatics from completely taking over the flavor asylum.
Two visits to Gelato Cafe produced more hits than misses. Grapefruit and sushi are my new favorite flavors for spring.
--Jennifer Hernandez has a cape of red and matching stilettos.