How do you know Summer's over? I ask myself this every year. Mostly it has to do with the temperature change, but after spending all of August in Scotland's fall-like temps, the dips didn't seem quite as shocking. This year it seemed like the Removal of the Air Conditioner was the significant and reverent end to summer. .......But it was still sunny, y'all! And since I missed a whole MONTH of ice creaming, I decided it was still ok to get ice cream. Until it officially wasn't. No matter what the weather is doing (hello, you gorgeous 80 degree day, you!), I can't fight what the calendar says. And the calendar says that summer is officially over. So I decided to spend summer's last hurrah finally visiting Il Laboratorio del Gelato.
To begin, despite the Ice Creaming taking, oh, three years to get there - I have a history with Il Laboratorio. It was one of my first "great finds" in ice cream in NYC, found by accident, due to the good, old-fashioned, reliable FOMO line. Several years ago my ex and I went to the Tenement Museum one weekend, to discover a pretty big line - not to the museum itself, but for its neighbor, a tiiiiiiiny ice cream booth so small you could not enter yourself. Well, I'll stop for any gelato, but gelato with a line this long had me SUPER curious (see "FOMO"). I don't believe we ended up getting gelato that day - cause as much as we have FOMO, we New Yorkers also LOVE to snottily *reject* FOMO (see "why I haven't had a Cronut") - but I did find my way back, on a weekday (of course), and I was giddy over what I found. Mission Fig?? Avocado?? Black Sesame?!?! How did one choose?! And moreover, after some sampling - they were all DELICIOUS! This wasn't weird flavors for Willy Wonka's sake, friends. This was damn good contemporary gelato. Gelato with a twist.
By 2011 I'm sure the rest of the universe finally discovered them and they moved to their gorgeous, sleek space on Houston St. (PS, They have always been on The List guys; I guess I just never found myself strolling by there.) I dug into their history a bit and they have quite an interesting story. The owner, Jon F. Snyder, comes from a background of ice cream making (sorta), in that he worked at his family-owned Carvel franchise in Westchester County growing up. Apparently he had good memories there; enough that he quit college in 1984 at the age of 19 to found the gelato company Ciao, Bella (yeah, that Ciao Bella), which he then sold at the age of 25 for $100,000 (about $230,000 today). He later went back to school, got his MBA, but found himself wanting to "reinvest in Manhattan after 9/11," according to the NY Times. As Ciao Bella became more and more popular, focusing more on wholesale to restaurants like the River Cafe and Balducci's, they had to relocate their factory out to New Jersey, and this made Snyder sad. In September of 2002 he opened his new gelateria, Il Laboratorio, bringing his same love of the dish with a passion and precision before unknown to NYC.
Start reading his press or watching his video clips on their website, or even take a glance at their Yelp page, and you'll realize they are in a class of their own. To date there are more than THREE HUNDRED flavors of gelato, with new ones being experimented on every day, STILL made small-batch (see tub size in the pic below) and literally in the store by hand, with local ingredients (all dairy comes from Mercer Dairy in Boonville, NY). The pride behind this is evident: the entire shop is designed to be, in a word, transparent, about its product and its creation process.
The only problem then is not so much WHICH flavors to pick - I toyed with the idea of buying several cups, thinking myself a food critic - but how best to combine them. Clearly it would not do to combine Corn with Thai Chili Chocolate. Sweet or savory? Ultimately, sweet won (surprise, surprise). I combined Turkish Coffee (that one was a no-brainer), Mexican Cinnamon, and Prune Armagnac (a French brandy flavored gelato?! Twist my arm!). They were all INTENSE-intense, of course - Il Laboratorio has never shied away from fully-committed flavors - but ultimately and surprisingly the Mexican Cinnamon was my fave. But that doesn't remotely mean I'll ever get it again. Half the fun of Il Laboratorio is getting to see what new creations they'll surprise you when you walk through that big, glass door. And hearing the squeals of the uninitiated ("Does that say Cheddar Cheese?!?!") beside you in line.
Just don't go on a Saturday. :)
See ya next Summer, Ice Creamers!