I thought the “Ice Cream Diaries” would be taking a break until spring, but this unseasonably warm weather we’ve been having inspired me to make at least one more entry.
I was also inspired by an unplanned visit to Il Giardino del Dolce, an Italian café bakery in the new First Street redevelopment in St. Charles, just south of Main Street and overlooking the west bank of the Fox River. We had attended the Scarecrow Festival on Sunday, and we were trudging back to the car early in the afternoon – a bit hot and tired – when we heard the siren call of gelato.
Il Giardino del Dolce has a sign up by its counter explaining the difference between traditional, American-style ice cream and gelato. I didn’t take notes, but I do remember two main differences are that gelato has less air than ice cream and that gelato is often flavored with fresh fruit.
We ended up choosing the berry-riffic “wild fruits” flavor in a small cup, which cost $3. You could actually choose two different flavors in the small size, and mix more flavors as the sizes got larger. But honestly, the gelato was so fresh tasting and delicious that I was quite satisfied with sharing. Had I been ordering on my own, however, I likely would have ordered the nutella flavor – perhaps paired with the biscotti flavor. (I did get a taster sample of the nutella, and oh, was it heavenly!) I gather that the flavors at Il Giardino change the day, but they offered about 10 when we were there.
Now, gelato is just a tiny portion of the offerings at Il Giardino Del Dolce, which also has had a location on Harlem Avenue in Chicago for more than 20 years.
The company is best known for its baked goods – and the St. Charles location has a long row of glass-front display cases packed with pasties, cookies and cakes. I must admit that I find the choices kind of overwhelming – I can’t imagine you could go wrong with anything here, although I know people rave about the cannolis. And we actually ordered a cake for my daughter’s 1st birthday from Il Giardino, soon after it opened. The cake was darling – it was in the actual shape of a ladybug – and tasted awesome.
Il Giardino also sells pizza by the slice and by the pan, focaccia, meatball sandwiches and some ready-made Italian meals that you can take to heat up at home.
If I remember right, Il Giardino del Dolce was the first retail tenant in the new parking garage along First Street. Since it opened in the spring of 2009, it has doubled the size of its storefront, and the day we bought our gelato, each of its approximately 10 tables was filled with couples or families enjoying a rest and a dessert or snack. Obviously, opening a location far out west was a good move for Il Giardino – and for us!