Dining Out: End of Summer Midtown Gelato Tour

We used to love frozen yogurt. Heck, we still like it, though we’ve been meaning to have a talk with our favorite yogurt place, Cultive, about their recent flavor choices.

But that hot-weather standby got ruined a little bit for us. We were lucky enough to spend a couple weeks in Italy in July, and while we were there, gelato became a daily treat. Gelato is that soft but rich Italian ice cream, served in little overpriced cups. It’s largely a tourist thing, but in a country where summer temperatures and humidity often don’t even drop below the 90s at night, and where people seem to have an irrational fear of both air conditioners and electric fans, it’s something even locals indulge in. Depending on what mood you were in, you could stay with the tried-and-true flavors like nocciola (chocolate-hazelnut) or limon, or order something scary, like the oddly-named “Zuppe Inglis,” which loosely translates to “English soup” and actually means eggnog (and which was amazing).

Luckily, there are three places in Midtown that serve gelato—as we were reminded one recent evening while walking down the street with our frogurt, only to pass Hot Italian (627 16th Street), which was doing lots of business out of their gelato window. We vowed that our next hot weather trip would be there.

Now we like the food at Hot Italian (much better than our profoundly disappointing visit to One Speed earlier this year). They definitely have the most flavors of any nearby gelato spot, over a dozen both standard and obscure, facing the street through a glass case, just like in Italy. But the gelato seems to have fallen off in quality since they first opened over a year ago. The caramel used to have a subtle, toasty to slightly burned taste that went through two or three stages in your mouth. This time, it was kind of chalky and not good at all. Maybe it was all the excellent gelato we had in Italy, but we’ve also heard from others that it has gone downhill. If anyone at that otherwise quite good establishment is reading this, I hope they take heed.

Our next stop was Michelangelo’s (1725 I Street). They only had four or five flavors, and the price was higher. But the portions were generous, and the quality was excellent. We each had cappuccino and fig. Of all the coffee ice cream I’ve had in my life, this tasted the most like coffee—which is great for those of us who like coffee. While the fig may not have been quite at the same level of deliciousness, it was still very good and had a flavor unlike anything I’ve ever tasted. It was almost like red wine, subtle and not too sweet. The gelato here was smooth and not the slightest bit chalky or prone to separating if it melted. It’s made in small batches by the owner’s uncle, and is well-worth checking out.

The third spot we checked out was Butch N’ Nellie’s (1827 I Street), just over on the next block. There were also only about five flavors here, and they tended more toward the conventional. But it was also very good. I tried the dark chocolate, which was a bit too dense, almost gummy. But the chocolate hazelnut was good, the equal of many we had in Italy. The vanilla was even better. It sounds plain, but it wasn’t, the real vanilla bean flavor bursting out.

In short, if you can’t make it to Italy, this section of I Street is well worth the trip.

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