Down East 2013 ©
Photograph by Trent Bell
Four years ago Joshua Davis and Bruno Tropeano, the founders of Maine’s premier Italian gelateria, the Gelato Fiasco, were living in Rome. Business partners since their sophomore year at Bentley University in Waltham, Massachusetts, in 2002, the pair had first successfully ventured into real estate speculation, then property management. But while in Rome their interests turned to artisanal foods — and eventually honed in on gelato.
This story wouldn’t be very surprising except that this Rome (population 980) is located about a half an hour from Maine’s capital, Augusta. And there wasn’t a gelateria in sight.
Davis and Tropeano perceived a dearth of gelaterias across the United States. The duo deemed the situation, appropriately, a fiasco, and it inspired them to dive into the frozen dessert business. “In Italy, there are something like sixty million people and around eighty thousand gelaterias,” says Davis. “That’s the rumor at least. And no one was really doing it justice here.”
The delicious Italian treat translated surprisingly well to Maine. Quality local ingredients — from Garelick milk to seasonal fresh fruit — facilitated gelato-making of the highest order. And the audience, in Brunswick in particular, appeared ready-made. “It’s right at the mouth of the midcoast,” says Tropeano, “so we see all the people who go up Route 1, but it’s also close enough to downtown Portland.”
“We were looking for a place that obviously appreciates more than just chain restaurants,” adds Davis. “There are about forty-five restaurants that you can walk to from our street. For a town of twenty thousand to support that many unique and diverse restaurants was an obvious sign that it could support a gelateria.”
Gelato, which simply means frozen in Italian, is not a synonym for ice cream. Made primarily with whole milk rather than cream, gelato contains less butterfat (all ice creams, according to the FDA, must consist of at least 10 percent butterfat). Less fat means a heightened experience of flavor because the mouth isn’t working as hard to permeate the fat. Gelato is also churned more slowly than traditional ice cream and stored at a slightly warmer temperature, resulting in less air and altering the consistency. “Ice cream with a romance to it,” as Davis puts it.
This time of year the most popular flavor is Maine Blueberry — they can’t keep it in stock. “We get most of our blueberries from Gert Card, an eighty-year-old woman who harvests in Topsham,” says Davis. “She came in our first summer and asked us if we wanted to buy six or seven pints of blueberries. We said, ‘Can we get eighty?’ ”
Since opening in August of 2007, the Gelato Fiasco has served more than 450 flavors. Each morning the shop will make anywhere from twenty-five to thirty-five different flavors in small batches. When the flavor runs out for the day, you’re out of luck. Though Maine Blueberry reigns supreme in summer, the most popular year-round flavor is Sicilian Pistachio. If you’re not a nut or berry fan, there is no shortage of variety: tart, punchy Pomegranate-Lime Sorbetto (sorbetto is a subgenre of gelato made with no dairy); fluffy, sugary Cake Batter; Chocolate Chipotle with a spicy finishing kick. All the flavors entice from within the eighteen-foot englassed display — good thing you can mix and match!
Gelato Fiasco pints are now sold at grocers and markets across the state, several restaurants serve a variety of flavors for dessert, and, as of this writing, six retail locations in New England offer the scooped stuff, including Gelato Mania in Boothbay, Wicked Gelato in Farmington, Bard Coffee and Whole Foods in Portland, and Roly’s English Fudge in Kennebunkport. And while their edible product is truly top-notch, the fun-loving, playful work environment that Davis and Tropeano have created is most definitely a secret ingredient in their success. On the Contact Us page of their Web site, “telepathic transmission” follows Twitter. And on cold winter days, a matching discount in price is offered for every degree below freezing.
“I think making gelato that tastes great and has the right texture and right appearance served by people who are really happy — that model could work anywhere in the world,” says Davis. The fact that this Italian indulgence, with its well-deserved reputation as some of the best in the country, was conceived in Rome, Maine, well, that’s just icing on the Cake Batter gelato.