Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Pazzo Gelato Cafe: Willy Wonka & Duality

"Try some more. The strawberries taste like strawberries, and the snozzberries taste like snozzberries."
--Willy Wonka

As a child, I loved the movie Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory and it still occupies a special place in my heart. Such a twisted and fun movie, and Gene Wilder played such a great role. The remake was a travesty. Last week I visited a new gelato shop which was inspired by Willy Wonka, and found an abundance of vibrant and natural flavors.

The Pazzo Gelato Cafe recently opened in North Andover and its website is under construction though their Facebook page has some details about the shop. It is open every day, from 10am-10pm, except Sundays when it opens at 12pm. The cafe can be easily located on Route 114, in the Eaglewood Shops. Besides its Wonka inspiration, it is also an exemplar of duality, a showcase of opposing characteristics.

Pazzo, an Italian word which means "crazy," is owned by Jim Demotses, a former lawyer who graduated from Suffolk Law School, the same law school where I graduated. Jim has also worked in restaurants his whole life and eventually realized that food and cooking were his true passion. I can relate to his career change, leaving the legal profession. Jim received his primary training at the Cambridge School of Culinary Arts and immersed himself more deeply into gelato at the Gelato & Pastry Institute of America as well as the Carpigiani Frozen Dessert University in North Carolina.

"A little nonsense now and then is relished by the wisest men."
--Willy Wonka

Jim was inspired by Willy Wonka, and one of the cafe walls is covered by a colorful mural which is meant to reflect, in part, the Lickable Wallpaper from the Wonka movie. Though I don't advise licking the murals. The cafe, small and welcoming, has 7 tables, made from reclaimed wood, where you can sit and eat. Jim's philosophy "...centers on providing an authentic Italian gelateria experience by serving freshly-made products sourced from local dairy producers, using imported Italian flavorings and high-quality fresh fruits." Based on my visit, he seems to be living up to this philosophy.

There is another colorful mural on one of the other walls, it is is essentially the family mural, presenting images of Jim's family. You can see his wife, Karen, his daughter, Helen, and his son, Andrew. The mural also depicts the village in Campagna, Italy, where Karen's grandfather was born. The murals on both walls were designed by Kate Delaney, a local artist, and there is even a QR code within the mural which leads to a video of Kate designing the mural.

One of their glass cases holds numerous baked goods, most which are made in house except for the tea breads. The cookies and muffins are made fresh in the cafe. You can stop by for breakfast, to grab a treat with some coffee or tea.

"Bubbles, bubbles everywhere, but not a drop to drink - yet."
--Willy Wonka

Besides food, they also sell a variety of drinks, including coffee (from espresso to cappucino), tea and hot chocolate. And the drinks come either hot or cold. They make fresh brewed, unsweetened iced tea which pleased me to see. You can even get frozen drinks, such as an Espresso Frappino or Fruit Smoothie.

The first aspect of duality is that the Cafe produces both sweet and savory treats. Though gelato is their primary focus, they also prepare a line of Paninis. You'll find eight paninis on the menu, priced from $7.95-$8.95, and includes types such as Caprese and Chicken Milanese, Vegetarian and Reubino. Each panini is served with a small bag of Utz potato chips.

When I arrived at Pazzo, I ordered the Porchetta panini, which consists of thinly sliced, slow roasted Italian herb & spice rubbed pork topped by pickles, tomatoes, Swiss cheese, and chipotle mayo (though I opted for it without the mayo). It was quite tasty, with tender pork and a nice grilled bread, and would make for a good lunch at any time.

"We are the music makers, and we are the dreamers of the dreams."
--Willy Wonka

The primary star of the shop is gelato and they usually carry 20+ flavors, divided into two glass cases. The smaller case contains all of the gelatos with nuts, to protect people who possess nut allergies. The sorbets, which are dairy free, are also differentiated by scoops with blue handles. They even sell gluten free gelato.

This is where we find another aspect of duality, local vs imported. Jim is strong in his support of the use of local ingredients but he finds value in imported ingredients as well, especially those from Italy. Locally, Jim uses the following vendors: Shaw Dairy Farm of Dracut for dairy products, CASA Foods of Middleton for imported Italian meats and cheeses, Iggy’s Breads of the World of Cambridge for freshly-baked pastries and bagels, and Jessica’s Brick Oven of North Andover for breads and rolls. He may use other local vendors in the future as well.

Jim also plans on using locally grown fruits, from farms and farmer's markets, when they are in season, and gelatos using those fruits will be differentiated as "native" gelatos. All of their sorbets are made from real fruit, and they do not use any artificial flavorings or colorings. When fruits are not in season, they rely on individually quick frozen fruit, which is ripe fruit, cut into pieces, and flash frozen to preserve its freshness and taste.

All of their nut flavors are imported from Italy, such as their Sicilian pistachio. They also obtain their  biscotti flavoring, rum raisin, and cheesecake from Italy. Their pure vanilla extract is obtained from France and it is alcohol-free, which thus won't interfere with the freezing of the gelato.

"And almost everything you'll see is eatable, edible. I mean, you can eat almost everything."
--Willy Wonka

Gelato comes in Small ($3.45), Medium ($4.15) or Large ($4.95) and you can get a fresh-made Waffle cone for an extra $1. While I was in the store, they were making the waffle cones and such an appealing aroma pervaded the shop. If you need a larger portion of gelato, you can order it by the Pint, Snack Pack or Party Pack (which holds 2+ pounds of gelato for $19.95). Or opt instead for a Gelato Sundae ($5.99) or Brownie Sundae ($7.25). If you order a Gelato Sandwich ($4.95), they will put your chosen flavor between any of their home-made cookies. Plenty of gelato options.

They even sell Gelato Frappes (medium $5.95, large $6.95), which can be topped by home-made whipped cream. I tried one with Banana Stracciatella gelato and it was creamy, thick and flavorful, and who wouldn't enjoy real whipped cream?

Jim allowed me to sample any of the flavors that I desired and I sampled nearly all of them, including flavors such as Chocolate Kahlua Brownie, Almond Coconut, Toasted Almond, Chocolate Sorbet, Stracciatella, Cheesecake with Amarena Cherries, Banana Stracciatella, Lemon Sorbet, Watermelon Sorbet, Pineapple & Orange Sorbet, Caramel and Pistachio. For their Pistachio, they use 100% Sicilian pistachios, and no other filler nuts like some other places do. Pistachios are expensive, which is why some use fillers. This gelato had such a prominent pistachio flavor, tasting exactly like a handful of nuts. It tasted fresh and natural, with a delightful creaminess.

In fact, nearly every flavor I tasted possessed a bright, fresh and natural taste. The fruit sorbets tasted like fresh fruit, and not some artificial flavorings. I very much enjoyed the Watermelon Sorbet and the Lemon Sorbet was quite refreshing. The Caramel, Chocolate, Banana and Vanilla flavors were all bright and delicious too. The Stracciatella presented a smoother, rich and less crunchy chocolate than you find in the usual Chocolate Chip. Even though I am not a huge fan of cheesecake, I enjoyed their Cheesecake with Amarena Cherries.

The only disappointment for me was the Almond Coconut which I felt didn't deliver as prominent a coconut flavor as the other flavors did. All of the other flavors were compelling, and would appeal to any gelato or ice cream lover. This is damn good gelato.

"Invention, my dear friends, is 93% perspiration, 6% electricity, 4% evaporation, and 2% butterscotch ripple."
--Willy Wonka

Jim took me into the kitchen and showed me how they make gelato. They begin with either one of two bases, one white (pictured above) and the other chocolate. The white is mostly whole milk, a little cream, vanilla, and stabilizers. I got to taste both bases and they too delivered strong, rich flavors of vanilla and chocolate. The process allows much creativity, and Jim is always experimenting with different gelato flavors. Above, Jim is preparing to make a Tiramisu ice cream. This raises another aspect of duality, as much of the gelato work is artisan, done by hand, yet the process also include a high-tech component.

Once the gelato mixture has been completed, it is poured into the batch freezer. Jim purchased a Carpigiani batch freezer, from Italy (costing around $30K), a highly advanced machine which ensures a perfect gelato. It only takes about 5-6 minutes to make a batch of gelato, though a bit longer in the morning until the machine has had a chance to get cold enough. With this machine, Jim can make enough gelato during the day to fill his two cases. Most of the gelato flavors are made once a day, and sometimes twice a day. Occasionally, a gelato is left in the case for two days but no longer than that. The nut gelatos are always made at the end of the day so as to not contaminate the other nut-free gelatos. At the end of the day, the machine is then thoroughly cleaned for the next day.

Once the gelato comes out of the batch freezer, it will be placed into a blast chiller, at about -40 degress Celsius, for a short time to prevent the gelato from developing ice crystals.

Pazzo's commitment to the support of the local community takes shape in other ways besides their purchase of local products. They hire co-op students from Greater Lawrence Regional Vocational Technical School to work at the shop. They reduce their carbon footprint by implementing green practices, including working with Black Earth Haulers, a food composting company based in Gloucester, which transports food waste to Brick End Farm in Hamilton to be turned into usable compost for local farms. On the counter, you will even find "community jars" for tips, and the employees donate those tips to different local charities each month.

Though new, Jim still looks to the future, and how he can grow and make Pazzo even better. He will continue to develop and create new gelato flavors. He would like to work with local restaurants and develop special flavors just for them. I think the future looks very bright for Pazzo Gelato Cafe as they are producing a high quality and delicious product. Their gelato flavors will appeal to even the most discerning palate, and they satisfy with their prominent, bright and natural tastes. Kudos to Jim and I wish him the best of luck in his endeavors.

"There is no life I know to compare with pure imagination. Living there, you'll be free if you truly wish to be."
--Willy Wonka

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