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Paciugo gives gelato fans a natural way to get their licks

At Paciugo, customers can opt for a mixture of gelato flavors in one cup. This grouping has pecan praline, mint chocolate chip and extra dark chocolate.

SCOTT KEELER | Times

At Paciugo, customers can opt for a mixture of gelato flavors in one cup. This grouping has pecan praline, mint chocolate chip and extra dark chocolate.

By Laura Reiley

ST. PETERSBURG

Gelato is not just the Italian word for ice cream. It is different altogether, denser, softer, creamier than American ice cream. Gelato often incorporates purees of fruits or nuts, and it is kept at a warmer temperature, making it more amenable to cups than cones.

And get this: It's made with milk, not cream, so it has about 70 percent less fat than many ice creams. Starting to sound miraculous? Head over to Paciugo (pa-CHU-go) on Beach Drive NE, which opened at the end of 2006 as a retirement career by Carl and Toni Riche. They had a Paciugo franchise in their Plano, Texas, neighborhood and missed it in their new Florida home.

With a changing array of 32 to 34 flavors each day, it's hard to choose. Aim for the stracciatella (chocolate chip) or the panna cotta (shades of wedding cake) for sheer lusciousness. In a small cup ($3.39 piccolo, $4.39 medio, $4.99 grande) you can mix three flavors together. Consider pairing the intense chocolate fondant with a bit of lush hazelnut, the most popular flavor in Italy, and then tie them together with a third selection of gianduja (that's chocolate and hazelnut together, like Nutella). If you are a fruit lover, all of the pureed fruit flavors are intensely tangy — lemon and a sophisticated strawberry/balsamic are at the top of the heap.

According to Toni Riche, the gelati contain no preservatives, no additives and no corn syrup, and everything is natural (except for cookies on top of a couple of flavors). Their black cherries are from Italy, as are the hazelnuts and mint; the dark chocolate is from Belgium.

Still, the ultimate Italian experience is a scoop of triple vanilla gelato melting gently in a cup of intense espresso. On a sunny afternoon at a sidewalk cafe table, a small spoon, lots of napkins and a modicum of self-restraint are all you need to enjoy its gooey glory.

Laura Reiley can be reached at (727) 892-2293 or lreiley@sptimes.com. Her blog, the Mouth of Tampa Bay, can be found at www.blogs.tampabay.com/dining. Reiley dines anonymously and unannounced. The Times pays all expenses. Advertising has nothing to do with selection for review or the assessment.

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Paciugo

300 Beach Drive NE, Suite 120, St. Petersburg (a few doors from Parkshore Grill), (727) 209-0298

Cuisine: Gelato

Hours: 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday to Thursday, 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday

Details: Amex, V, MC; no reservations; no liquor; party packs available to go

Prices: $3.99-$4.99

Paciugo gives gelato fans a natural way to get their licks 04/02/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, April 8, 2008 8:31am]

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