An Albanian couple has opened a gem of a gelateria in Delaware.
When Americans travel to Italy, one of the things they love reminiscing about—a food memory souvenir, if you will—is often the gelato. But what if you could drive just 40 minutes outside Columbus to taste that same authentic delicacy in all its silky glory?
I have, and it was a lot more affordable than a trip to Rome. The gelateria is Ciao Café in Delaware, owned by Albanian immigrants Etleva Baku and Dritan Berberi, who go by the nicknames Eva and Tani.
The married couple and parents of two moved to Delaware six years ago from Pavia, Italy, a city near Milan where they lived for 13 years. For a decade of that time, Baku worked in gelaterias and learned the craft of making Italian-style ice cream. In April, the pair opened Ciao Café, its long glass storefront running along William Street in historic downtown Delaware.
Using a Bravo-brand gelato machine imported from Italy, Baku makes her gelato fresh daily—six core flavors and six more that change depending on her whim and the season. They range from the delightfully nutty pistachio and almond to traditional varieties like stracciatella, tiramisu, chocolate and amarena cherry and to fruity, dairy-free flavors like lemon, mango and even cantaloupe. Baku says if customers call a day ahead, she's happy to make gelato by request. See: cotton candy.
What's the difference between ice cream and gelato? First, there's more butterfat in ice cream, making it heavier and creamier. Both are made with milk, cream, sugar and (sometimes) egg yolks, but gelato uses a higher proportion of milk to cream. Gelato is churned at a much slower rate, which introduces less air and makes the gelato denser. It's usually served at a higher temperature than ice cream, enhancing its silk-like texture. Baku's version is just right, not that icy stuff you often find around town. And the flavor—oh, the flavor.
The café opens at 7 a.m. (8 a.m. on Sundays), so there are pastries and Italian espresso drinks on hand while Baku makes the day's gelato. She's had customers come in early expecting gelato for breakfast. “It's not like magic; I have to make it,” she laughs, noting that all 12 flavors are usually ready around 11 a.m. Ciao Café also carries other Italian desserts (like excellent housemade tiramisu and cannoli), gelato cakes and panini (her husband's specialty).
What's next for this enterprising family? Berberi plans to open an Italian/Mediterranean restaurant in Marion with Genti Koci, the owner of Opa Grill & Tavern and the same family friend who convinced them to move to Delaware. He says the plan is to open it before the year's end. They've considered finding a market for their gelato in Columbus but have no immediate plans.
Before I leave, one hand gripping a cup overflowing with gelato, Berberi is effusive about America and its opportunities, assuring me that the American dream is still alive. His mantra: “Believe in your dreams; make it happen.”