Capogiro, a gelateria in Philadelphia, needs to have an accompanying 12-step recovery program.
Well, actually, that would be stupid of them. They make money off of addicts like me. Ever since I took my first taste of Capogiro’s ethereally smooth and almost froth-like gelato, I was hooked.
At first, it was innocent, late night runs back in 2004 when I first discovered the tiny (original) store on the corner of 13th and Sansom. I was being somewhat naughty.
Then it was a quick, but cautious slide downhill to afternoon visits, in between meals.
On a recent five-day trip to Philadelphia, I fell off the wagon. It didn’t help that they opened a second location at 20th and Sansom or that my hotel was equidistance from both Capogirae. With the aid of “C.P.F.” (Capogiro Proximity Factor), an index devised by a gang of mischievous locals in honor of my visit, I was, at all times, able to gauge my distance from one of the two gelaterias. Keeping my meals and activities well under a modest 25-block C.P.F., I hit the Capogirae twice daily (and managed to experience slight tummy gain): once after lunch and once after dinner, thanks to their late hours.
Here are the flavors I managed to try (click on the highlighted flavors to see our scoops, or see the entire set here):
Cioccolato Scuro (Dark Chocolate)
Fior di Latte
Mandorla Tostata (Toasted Almond)
Chocolate Amarena Cherry
English Sea Salt
Pesche con Panna (Peaches & Cream)
Moka (Chocolate and Coffee)
Dulce de Leche
Nocciola Piemontese (Piemontese Hazelnut)
Rosemary Honey Goat’s Milk
Madagascar Bourbon Vanilla
Mertillo con Crema
Melone con Absente
Arancia con Cardamomo (Orange with Cardamom)
Cocomero Giallo (Yellow Watermelon)
Pompelmo Rosso con Campari (Ruby Grapefruit with Campari)
Pesche Giallo (Yellow Peach)
Pesche Bianco (White Peach)
Lemon Opal Basil
I’m positive that I’ve left off a few.
Between my two friends and me, we consumed over $100 in gelati and sorbetti in five days.
What makes Capogiro’s gelati and sorbetti superior to any other (with, possibly, the exception of Otto, in New York) I’ve tried in the U.S.?
First and foremost, it’s the texture of the product. The gelati are creamy, the sorbetti almost frothy. They’re light. They’re airy. Think ice cream/sorbet meets whipped cream. This is achieved by keeping the product fresh – making everything in their case anew each day with gelato machines – and properly storing it during the day in specially calibrated refrigeration cases.
Second, the ingredients are top-notch. They’re fresh and seasonal. I happened to arrive at the height of summer. The bins were brimming with fruits, like local watermelon and blackberries. With ingredients this good, it’s not surprising that…
Lastly, the flavors at Capogiro are intense, creative *and* good. It’s clear from the vividness of the colors of the product and from the boldness of the flavors that they don’t skimp on base ingredients. Be it pluot or coconut, each scoop is chock-full of the flavor giver. Capogiro also does an amazing job with flavor combinations. They’re especially deft at getting the right balance so that the two (or more) elements are balanced. There are many traditional pairings, like chocolate and banana or mint and lime, but it’s those special mixes, like lavender and straciatella and rosemary honey and goat cheese, that I get especially excited about.
And because they change the flavors every day, every trip is a new adventure. I frequently check their website for free thrills. Just now, I found Carambola con Limone Verde (star fruit with tart limes), Ananas con Sage (golden pineapple with local pineapple sage), and Susina Rossa (Lancaster County red plum).
I honestly couldn’t name a favorite. But six flavors, in particular, stood out:
Rosemary Honey and Goat’s Milk gelato
Blueberry-Grand Marnier sorbetto
Melone con Absente sorbetto (which was a shock, since I abhor absinthe, normally)
English Sea Salt gelato
1. Sorbetti tended to be more intensely flavored than the gelati. Perhaps for this reason, they tended to float to the top of my memory pool. This was quite surprising.
2. Nut-based gelati are an exception to the above observation. Generally, they were as flavorful as the most flavorful sorbetti.
3. Alcohol is usually a good sign (isn’t it always, though?).
4. Herb-infusions are hit-or-miss. Sometimes you taste them – like in the Rosemary Honey and Goat’s Milk gelato – sometimes you don’t – like the Lemon Opal Basil and the Aranchia e Cardamomo.
What every Capogiro addict should know:
1. Like any other substance with a particularly high percentage of salt or alcohol, the salted and spiked gelati and sorbetti have a lower freezing point than the norm. This means that they’re already closer to liquid state than the others. Ask for these flavors to be scooped last – the one to top your other gelato/sorbetto flavors (ordering it last in the line-up helps). Otherwise, you’ll basically have x (salted or spiked) flavor soup by the time you eat the other(s) on top.
2. Their flavors (at both locations) change daily (click here for 13th & Sansom, click here for 20th & Sansom). There are seasonal rotations too. Although the management updates them daily online, the lists of flavors aren’t usually refreshed by the time most true addicts are ready for the first scoop of the day at 10 a.m. But don’t worry, if they don’t have what you’re hoping for at one location, just walk to the other store. The extra exercise will help justify the extra scoop you’ll want to get as a reward for being super diligent in your quest for maximum pleasure.
3. Beware: there is a VERY HOT steam vent right outside the store on the corner of 13th and Sansom. If there’s not room to sit inside, you probably want to move far away from the store.
Capogiro gelato/sorbetto can be mail ordered or purchased at three other locations, including, most recently, at the Rock Center Café in Rockefeller Center in New York. I’m not sure whether the gelato is made on the premises at those three locations. If not, I’d be curious to see how the shipping to and storage at these off-site venues affects the product.
I would never mail order or buy take-out for home storage. Gelato is very temperamental. In my experience, any change in condition greatly compromises the texture, often, too much for me to justify the expense and trouble. For me, gelato is one of those unique treats whose ephemeral existence is best enjoyed fresh or not at all. I can live with that. Clearly, I don’t have a problem taking advantage of a good thing when I can get it.
119 South 13th Street
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19107
117 South 20th Street
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19103
Note: They also sell breakfast items and other sweets and cakes, including thin, lacy and crispy oatmeal chocolate chip cookies from Bonnie’s Best. Other than the cookies and the gelato, I haven’t tried anything else. Let me know if any of it’s any good!