April 16 2012 06:03 PM

A truly Italian experience in Little Italy

Pappalecco\'s affogado
Photo by Amy T. Granite
Tucked away from the cheese that flecks India Street, Pappalecco (1602 State St. in Little Italy) is where the Italians go. Even the staff‚ beautiful women, mostly‚ speak Italian, singing out menu descriptions with accents that make gelato specialties served morning, noon and night all the more alluring. There‚ is plenty to munch on, from homemade croissants with ham and cheese to more substantial breakfast plates served, til 3 p.m. to panini and salads. But with 30 flavors of gelato, made the old-fashioned way, it tough to pass up what Pappalecco is known for‚ even if it‚ is 9 a.m.

One recent Saturday, I strolled lazily through Little Italy with one goal: espresso. The corner café, with its warm, orange fascade, drew me in like a bee to a honey pot and, once inside, I couldn't resist a frappé (large, $4.50).

"What flavor tastes best with the espresso?" I asked, a little slow, since this would be my first cup of the day.

"The chocolate, the Pappalecco, there are many," sang the pretty girl. "I'll ring you up and we'll find you something."

The café was abuzz‚ packed inside and out‚ and the bouncy bambina treated me like I was the only sleepyhead in the place. In front of the gelato case I stood, one plastic spoon after another passed my way until I cried for mercy, or, rather, the tiramisu that would soon meet a double shot of espresso, the blender and a whipped-cream topping. Breakfast time!

It's a popular drink any time of day, though. Skip the espresso altogether and go for a fruity flavor instead; blended with a little ice, it's more refreshing than a cloying American milkshake and best enjoyed outside among welcoming and animated paisans.

But the affogado ($4.75) is what I've consistently ordered since discovering the place a couple years ago. Your desired flavor‚ is the namesake gelato: chocolate with amaretto and chunks of biscotti.  It comes topped with hot espresso, slowly melting the dense scoops for a hot-cold dessert and pick-me-up in one. There's roughly 70 to 80 percent less air in gelato than ice cream, so where the latter melts faster, the affogado's shape slowly dissolves into the inevitable (and lovely) bittersweet soup.

The café is loosely defined‚ meaning, patrons have more experiences to choose from‚ which creates a damn comfortable atmosphere, if you ask me. You can grab a coffee and dash in less than a minute, but soaking up hours of sun on the patio followed by a bite to eat, or lingering over dessert with a romantic date to the tune of live piano won't be interrupted by staff eager to turn a table. Any way you want it, you're welcome simply to enjoy.

This month, owners Francesco and Lorenzo Bucci are celebrating their fifth year in Little Italy (the Hillcrest location at 3650 Fifth Ave. has been open for two-and-a-half years). The brothers from Pisa have created an authentic taste of home at both shops, and they're not done yet. "People love this place because it's like a warm smile," Lorenzo told me. "Everybody here is happy."

Amy blogs at saysgranite.com and you can follow her on Twitter @saysgranite.


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