Hours: 8am-10pm Sunday-Thursday, 8am-11pm Friday-Saturday
There's a scene in the documentary film March of the Penguins when a male Emperor, braving harsh 100-mph winds, temperatures approaching 80 below and a barren, icy landscape littered with scores of frozen unborn hatchlings, successfully shields his mate's egg long enough to witness the emergence of an adorable little fluffball. As the triumphant scene played itself out on my TV, I was overcome with a sudden pang for a celebratory scoop of decadent chocolate ice cream. But my freezer was a barren, icy wasteland itself; I opted for a Cuban cigar instead, the smoldering plumes partially obstructing my view of happy feet waddling and sliding on an ice shelf somewhere in the Antarctic.
So when I stepped inside this sweet-tooth sanctuary many weeks later, the frosty motif and penguin paraphernalia took me back to that triumphant scene, and subsequently triggered a pang for a contraband stogie. But visions of humidors quickly sublimated when the display case of more than 20 assorted flavors of gelato came into view. Nick Padoan, a gracious and accommodating fella and one of the owners of this family-run operation, proudly exclaimed that the artisan gelato, supplied by Michigan-based Pete Palazzolo, made Oprah's 'Oâ?� List as her favorite. And one taste of the banana-caramel praline ($2.75 for a 4-ounce cup) could very well elicit a Winfrey-style exclamation of rapture ' 'I love this GEL-A-TOOOOO!â?�
Same goes for the Swiss chocolate couverture. The glossy coat to this dense treat is a result of the high cocoa butter content in the couverture chocolate, and the bittersweet flavor of the French extra-brut chocolate blended with double cream make it a must for chocoholics. I also reveled in the lusciousness of the roasted pistachio gelato and the sweet subtlety of the stracciatella with dark chocolate curls. The mango sorbetto ($2.75 for a 4-ounce cup), one of only two sorbets available (they usually scale back in the winter), tasted more like tangy citrus than it did mango.
You'll also find gourmet cookies ($2.15) by Selma's (a major supplier to Disney), truffles ($1) by Farris & Foster and confectionery concoctions by family matriarch Judy Padoan, who's here every morning whipping up her made-from-scratch baked goods. The shells of the cannoli ($3.25) may be a little crumbly, but Padoan's whipped ricotta filling had a rich, velvety texture and a nice hint of cinnamon.
Grilled panini, like hummus-layered vegetarian ($6.75) and peppery Buffalo chicken ($6.75), are a pleasing option for peckish patrons ' try a shake ($4.25) made with tiramisu gelato and a shot of espresso to temper the heat.
Oh, and they take their espresso quite seriously here. Only Illy-brand beans are used in their coffee beverages, and the gleaming equipment and machinery behind the slick future-retro/Tomorrowland counter oozes that urbane Euro flair.
It's quite clear that the Padoans are treading new ground in opening a high-end dessert/coffee bar that also embraces the family, and from what I saw, all segments of their patronage ' young and old ' left with happy feet.
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