Editor's Note: Serious Eats correspondent Carey Jones, eating her way around Italy, will be reporting back from Rome, Bologna, Tuscany, and Puglia.
I hadn't planned on writing about gelato in Bologna--I figured Robyn had covered that one. In fact, I intended to just eat my way through her list when in town. But then my friend Oscar, a lifelong Bologna resident with forty-odd years of gelato-eating under his belt, asked where I planned to try. I rattled off a few gelateria names.
He nodded sagely. "Those are good. But I know a better one."
What was it called? Oscar waved his hand dismissively. "I don't know names." I offered him my map, but that too was shooed away. "I don't read maps. But it's near my apartment. Near Cavour."
That wasn't much to go on. But armed with those bits of information, my second stomach and I set out for the Piazza Cavour in an upscale neighborhood south of the town center. And there waited the Cremeria Funivia--which, within ten minutes, would become my favorite gelateria in Italy.
It became clear from the moment we walked in the door that this was no ordinary ice cream shop. Whereas most gelaterie are somewhat cramped, Funivia is spacious and modern, with a shiny open kitchen showing off their in-house production. Whereas most display their gelato in towering neon mounds, Funivia keeps their own tightly covered and temperature-controlled. And whereas many shops stop at limone, pistacchio, and stracciatella, Funivia's menu ranges from the traditional cioccolato to familiar Italian Bacio to the adventurous toasted pine nut "Leonardo." Special flavors rotate daily, and the display even lists the nut sources for their hazelnut and pistachio gelati. All very good signs.
And the gelato? As perfectly made as it is ambitious. My first favorite was the San Luca, an almost buttery white chocolate embedded with "riso soffiato croccante," glorified Rice Krispies adding texture to the silky gelato. But then I tried the cioccolato--as rich and complex as any premium chocolate bar I've ever bitten into. Next came the Bacio, an eerily exact rendition of the popular Italian candy, smooth hazelnut-infused chocolate hiding whole hazelnuts within.
A creation dubbed New York, New York ranked among the best butter-pecan cones I'd ever had, with enormous pecans caramelized until almost burnt. On the fruitier side was the amarenta--drawing its name from Bologna's prized preserved sour cherries, called amarena--resulting in a tangy, bright pink gelato cut by tiny bits of crunchy candied hazelnut and almond.
Even Funivia's cones were memorable--as light and crispy as a wafer cone, with the sweeter cookie taste of an American sugar cone. But the best gelato vehicle may be the focaccia. It's not the rosemary-studded bread the name might have one expect, but a sweet and tender brioche bun sliced open and generously slathered with up to three flavors of gelato.
Funivia wasn't flawless. The pistacchio, while every bit as smooth and tasty as the others, was hardly recognizable as pistachio--green, yes, but lacking the from-the-shell flavor of top-flight gelato. With each tub of ice cream locked away, the options on the menu can be hard to decipher. And like many Italian shops, Funivia closes its doors on Mondays.
But those are about the extent of my complaints. Funivia's gelato is, without question, the best I've ever eaten. And my snacking companion, a former Bologna resident, agreed. After a visit to an excellent Roman gelateria a few days later, he gazed at his half-eaten cup mournfully. "It's great," he sighed. "Really great. But nothing tastes as good since Oscar's place."
After perfect gelato, everything else is bittersweet.