They might say we all scream for ice cream, but here at Chicago Bites we clamor for gelato. The Italian version of ice cream made with milk instead of cream, gelato is the pinnacle of frozen treats. We recently sampled delectable flavors at Black Dog and Spiaggia and have decided that gelato is worth more dedicated study. So now we embark on Gelato Quest 2010, a tireless and extensive search for the best gelato in Chicago! It’s a tough job, sure. But we got to do what we got to do!
Our first “official” stop was Paciugo in Lincoln Square, where master gelato maker Cristiana Acerbi Ginatta met us Sunday to chat about her craft and lead us through a tasting of the goods. Ginatta and her husband started their business ten years ago in Dallas with a base of eight gelato recipes from Ginatta’s grandfather who owned a restaurant in Milan. Now 30 to 38 different gelato flavors are served daily at a total of 41 Paciugo locations in 10 states, including three in Illinois — the new Lincoln Square location (across the square from Cafe Selmarie) that opened the end of July, a store in boystown, and one in Forest Park.
The gelato is made fresh every morning in-house, and the flavors are Ginatta’s brainchild. From the Mediterranean Sea Salt Carmel to the Tutti Fruity with its grapefruit undertones, Ginatta aims to achieve a complete flavor experience.
“Because gelato is made with milk, all the flavor is up front,” Ginatta explained. “You can create a layered taste — Carmel in one bite, salt in the next — with a smooth clean feel.”
Ginatta’s passion for flavor — and experimenting with it — is unmistakable and positively contagious. In fact, it appears that she tries to turn nearly every favor combination she likes into gelato with varying degrees of success. Her list includes banana and carrot, several attempts at using both saffron and ginger, and a rather spectacular combo of blue cheese and candied pecans. The blue cheese was in stores for awhile but was removed when Ginatta discovered the cheese itself continued to get stronger throughout the day and was completely overpowering by the end of it. Now she saves the blue cheese for special occasions like food festivals.
The name Paciugo directly relates to Ginatta’s love for flavor testing as well. Pronounced “pah-CHOO-go,” it means “messy concoction” in Italian, and that’s usually what Ginatta is in the process of making in her kitchen. She also makes a number of sorbets and soy milk based gelatos to accommodate vegans and people who eat gluten-free, all while keeping to a high standard — the very best in color, texture, and taste. And I think she achieves it.
Last night I had a lovely fresh honey ice cream, and if I hadn’t had gelato the day before, I would’ve been blissed out by it. As it was, it paled in comparison to what I had at Paciugo. We must have tried at least 15 flavors during our visit, and although I certainly liked some better than others because of my personal tastes, all were quality desserts. We also tried the coffee and blended treats, and my mouth waters at the very thought.
Paciugo may be a chain, but it’s a excellent addition to Lincoln Square, and I look forward to going back.
So where should we head to next on our gelato quest? Ideas? Want to join us? Leave us a comment or drop us a line on Twitter, and we’ll sort it out!
2324 West Giddings
Chicago, Illinois 60625
3241 N Broadway St
Chicago, IL 60657-3560
510 Madison St
Forest Park, Illinois 60130
This was a media tasting so we sampled free-of-charge.