Smile Politely

A lot of gelato in Champaign-Urbana

Gelato: the sweet, creamy dessert. It’s known for its rich flavor and density — and that it is an Italian dessert staple. Did you know that gelato began in a café in Paris? Italian chef Francesco Procopio dei Coltelli introduced gelato to his café’s menu in the late 1600s. He improved upon sorbets by replacing honey with sugar and adding a bit of salt to make the ice melt more slowly — and created gelato.

Gelato was so good that the Sicilian chef was awarded French citizenship and exclusive royal licence by King Louis XIV to be the sole producer of the frozen dessert in the kingdom for that time. 

In our kingdom, the Champaign-Urbana area, we have more than one gelato spot in town. I took it upon myself to try five different gelato places. In this list, I share what’s on the menu at each gelato spot, the prices, and what I tried. 

Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

Prairie Fruits Farm & Creamery

Prairie Fruits Farm & Creamery has been making goat milk gelato in-house since 2011. A decade ago, the owners traveled to Bologna, Italy to take a gelato making course from Carpigiani, the company that makes gelato machines, so they could learn how to make gelato from scratch using the farm goats’ milk. In their gelato, PFF also uses pure hazelnut and pistachio pastes from Italy, chocolate from Ethereal Chocolates in Woodstock, Illinois, real Madagascar vanilla, and local fruits, nuts, and herbs.

When I visited the farm’s store, there were four flavors available: honey lavender, mint, pistachio, and hazelnut. The staff asked if I wanted to sample a little spoonful of each. I thought the lavender had a lovely floral flavor, and the mint had a very strong cool mint taste. I loved both the nutty options, so I ordered a premium scoop of pistachio for $5 and a scoop of hazelnut for $4. The pistachio was so very good. It was a pale green color and had a wonderful nuttiness. The hazelnut scoop had a warm hazelnut flavor that was fantastic and sweet. Both were rich, developed flavors in a creamy gelato that melted nicely — and messily, so grab extra napkins.The gelato here was served with a wooden spoon and best enjoyed with the views of goats and the peaceful prairie landscape, but you can also pick up a pint of gelato at the farm store or at the farmers’ market on Saturdays. 

Prairie Fruits Farm and Creamery
4410 N Lincoln Ave
F 4 to 8 p.m.
Sa 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Su 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

Art Mart

Back by the desserts and chocolates inside Art Mart, you can find gelato. Art Mart began offering gelato about ten years ago; they spent time sampling gelato from dozens of places and decided to source gelato for the store from Palazzolos out of Saugatuck, Michigan.

Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

When I visited, there were five flavors available: Kahlua tiramisu, French silk pie, red velvet cake, espresso stracciatella, and salted caramel. Each gelato included two scoops ($4.50), and I tried four of Art Mart’s flavors: Kahlua tiramisu and espresso stracciatella in one cup and salted caramel with French silk pie gelato in the other cup. Art Mart’s gelato came in a plastic cup with a lime green flat-edge spoon to scoop.

The salted caramel had caramel syrup threads throughout the creamy gelato, and the rich caramel flavor was solid. The longer I let this gelato sit, the creamier it got. The French silk pie had a yummy chocolate flavor with pie crust and soft chocolate brownie bites in it. Almost every bite of the silk pie gelato had one of these delicious mix-ins, and I loved it. 

The tiramisu had a great sweet coffee flavor that was not overwhelming. The tiramisu gelato had a grainy texture from either ice or cookie crumbs (or both). There were thick, sweet ribbons of caramel that were so yummy. In the espresso scoop, the big coffee taste was wonderfully developed, and there were sweet chocolate pieces throughout. The chocolate pieces varied from small slivers to long rectangles of cold chocolate. This gelato was creamy and sweet, and if you like the taste of strong coffee, this is the gelato for you.

Art Mart
1705 S Prospect Ave
M-Sa 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Su 5 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

Pizzeria Antica

The Downtown Champaign pizzeria sells gelato in many flavors in addition to Neapolitan pizza. When I visited on Friday, the flavors available were pistachio, salted caramel, vanilla bean, strawberry, dark chocolate, coconut, raspberry sorbet, and lemon sorbet. I tried two gelatos, $4 each: one cup of dark chocolate gelato and one cup of salted caramel gelato. They were served as big scoops in cute green plastic cups by a friendly staff person who was super excited to scoop gelato. 

The dark chocolate was decadently chocolate-y without being overly sweet. There were soft chunks of brownie in the gelato. With a very rich cocoa flavor, this is a chocoholic’s chocolate gelato. The salted caramel gelato was the most amazing flavor: so caramel-y and sweet. It was the epitome of caramel flavor. The creamy, milky dulce de leche taste with a super smooth texture of gelato made this flavor one of my favorites. The deep caramel flavor was just marvelous.

Pizzeria Antica
10 E Chester St
M-Th 4 to 9 p.m.
F + Sa 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Two red cups of gelato sit on a black table at Baldarotta's in the Lincoln Square Mall in Urbana. Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

Baldarotta’s Porketta & Sicilian Sausage

In March of this year, Baldarotta’s expanded their restaurant to include a Gelateria which offers Italian cookies, drinks, and of course, gelato. You can get gelato in a medium cup ($4.75), a large sized cup ($5.99), by the pint ($16), or by the quart ($29). Baldarotta’s sources their gelato from Villa Dolce Gelato, a gelato company created by three brothers from Rome, Italy. Once the owners tasted it, they just knew that this was the brand they were going to carry in the Gelateria.

The flavors when I visited were Belgian dark chocolate, blood orange sorbet, Italian espresso, lemon pie, mint chocolate chip, cookies and cream, lemon sorbet, hazelnut chocolate crunch, and pistachio. I ordered two large cups: one with lemon pie and cookies n’ cream, and the other with espresso and chocolate. Baldarotta’s is the only place in town with toppings for gelato, and each topping is 25 cents. I threw down some quarters for toppings: pistachios and cherries on one cup of gelato and caramel sauce on the other.

The espresso gelato had a very creamy espresso flavor with no coffee bitterness, and the chocolate gelato had a rich cocoa flavor, and the texture of the gelato was so creamy and so very good. It even had chunks of chocolate in it.

The lemon pie gelato had delicious Genovesi cookie pieces, and the flavor was subtle lemon and well balanced sweetness. The cookies and cream was a thick and creamy gelato, and this flavor was my favorite because the cookie chunks in this were big. No little blender dust of cookies; no, I was getting big chunks of cookies here. The toppings were a fun addition, and I especially liked the cherries on top.

Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

You can also get a gelato sorbet adult beverage (and I did) at Baldarotta’s for $6.50. The Sicilian dreamsicle is usually made with vanilla sorbet, but the staff asked if I wanted to try it with blood orange sorbet, and I did. This is such a fun drink, and as I drank it, the orange sorbet melted into the drink. The blood orange flavor in the sorbet was vibrant and fresh, and the cocktail was bubbly and boozy — worth a try for sure.

Baldarotta’s Porketta & Sicilian Sausage
300 S Broadway Ave
T-Sa 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Su noon to 3 p.m.

Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

The Bread Company

Newest to the gelato game, The Bread Company began serving gelato just this past month. The flavors available when I tried were cappuccino, mint chocolate chip, chocolate, spicy honey, strawberries and cream, pistachio, vanilla, raspberry sorbet, and mango sorbet. I tried two scoops of strawberries and cream ($4.50) and a scoop each of cappuccino, spicy honey, and chocolate ($5.50). The gelato was served in a paper cup with a paddle spoon. I love the idea of walking up to a window and buying gelato; it just felt cool.

The strawberries and cream gelato that I tried was so very good. I loved the sweet strawberry flavor and the creaminess of this gelato. The classic pairing was fantastic, and if you like strawberries, you have to try this. The chocolate was a good, smooth gelato with a light chocolate flavor. The cappuccino had a lovely coffee taste with little slivers of coffee-flavored chocolate which gave the dessert a nice texture.

The spicy honey gelato is something that needs to be tried by all. This flavor was outstanding. I had never had a gelato with honey in it before — and it is something I was missing my whole life. The honey crystals in the smooth gelato gave the teeniest crunch that melted into the gelato. The flavor on this one was particularly excellent: a little honey and a little salty. I loved it.

The Bread Company
706 S Goodwin Ave
M 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.
T-F 9 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Sa 4 to 8 p.m.

Top image by Alyssa Buckley.

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