NEWARK, Del. — These days, chain restaurants dominate the American food landscape. For travelers, it’s too easy to stop at a familiar place rather than take a chance on an unknown local eatery, even though that’s the best way to appreciate a region. On a recent visit to the nation’s second smallest state, the college town of Newark (pronounced NEW-ark) seemed a likely place to find the local touch.
The hometown of the University of Delaware, the state’s oldest and largest university, should generate creative thinking on the food front. As I drove slowly along bustling Main Street, I wasn’t encouraged because java, pizza, and beer joints were as ubiquitous as “Go Blue Hens” signs in support of the college team. Then a lively sidewalk cafe scene caught my eye; the name Caff&é Gelato implied ice cream parlor, but a large banner calling it the “Best Restaurant in Newark” implied there was more than met the eye. There is.
Although not a student place, the four-year-old Caffé Gelato has a university link. The dessert-bistro is the brainchild of UD alumnus Ryan German, who turns 27 next month. Fretting about jobs even before his senior year, he took matters into his own hands.
In April of 2000, the month before he graduated sixth in his class with a business degree, he opened Caffé Gelato and introduced the town to gelato — Italian-style ice cream — and a northern Italian, Mediterranean-inspired menu. On the May day his classmates were receiving their degrees, German said in a recent telephone interview, he was overseeing his busiest day at the restaurant.
German said he decided on a gelato cafe when he attended a food fair in northern Italy in 1999 during UD’s independent study winter session. To learn how to make it, he went to the source: Italian artisans who shared old family recipes. He uses locally produced milk and cream, some from UD cows, and fresh fruits, nuts, and chocolates. Gelato is much creamier than ice cream, even though it has less butterfat.
The 65-seat restaurant’s wonderful split personality is obvious when you cross the threshold. The front section is an ice cream parlor with a rainbow of gelato in a glass case. Customers can sample a flavor or two from 24 selections, among them wild berry, banana, peach, pistachio, coconut, peanut butter, and many variations on chocolate. On an afternoon stop, I finally selected two: white chocolate hazelnut and coconut. So creamy, so delicious.
The spacious dining room is an inviting environment of raspberry and peach hues, white tablecloths, candles, fresh flowers, and original art on the walls. The sidewalk cafe opens in good weather.
German and executive chef Tanner Dunlop supplement the imaginative menu with daily specials and unusual crme brules. Among the regular menu items are tonno melanzana (grilled tuna), pistachio chicken, roasted rack of lamb, and mushroom marsala. The dessert menu has Italian specialties such as tiramisu.
Satisfying a craving for crabmeat, I chose crab and conch chowder as an appetizer and crab fusilli as the entree. The Manhattan-style chowder was a subtle taste of the sea in a flavorful tomato broth. The twisted fusilli pasta was dressed in a spicy tomato sauce with flecks of back-fin crabmeat and fresh basil. My evening ended with a white chocolate almond crme brule, a contrast of silky cream and crunchy slivers with two mini-scoops of gelato on the side. The restaurant goes to the head of the class for a return visit.
Caffé Gelato, 90 E. Main St., Newark, Del., 302-738-5811, www.caffegelato.net. Lunch Monday-Saturday 11 a.m.-5 p.m., dinner Monday-Thursday 5-9:30 p.m., Friday-Saturday 5-10 p.m., brunch Sunday 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Gelato available until midnight. Gelato $1.99-$4.65; sundaes $6.99; entrees $16.95-$22.95; pastas $15.95-17.95.
By Jan Shepherd,
Globe Correspondent, The Boston Globe
Originally published November 10, 2004 by The Boston Globe
Copyright ©2004 Globe Newspaper Company.
Reprinted by permission.