When Martha Hoover, long-time Indianapolis restauranteur and creator of the Patachou brand, envisioned Napolese, her authentic Neopolitan pizzeria, a gelato dessert component was always a part of her plan. "Gelato is a natural extension of Neopolitan-style pizza," she says. And the frozen dessert - softer than ice cream and ubiquitous in Italy - had been part of the menu since the beginning.
But last fall, Hoover made gelato a destination in itself with her latest venture, GELO: Gelato by Napolese. The gelateria and dessert bar occupies the east-most space in a strip mall housing three adjacent Hoover restaurants - including Cafe Patachou (her flagship) and Napolese - at the intersection of 49th and Pennsylvania.
Early on, Hoover found herself dissatisfied with the gelato varieties she could source commercially, and didn't want to rely on traditional ice-cream methods of churning and storing, since gelato has specific storage needs. So she and head chef Tyler Herald began creating their own.
"We had a very definitive idea of the quality we wanted," she says. "We're making truly artisanal, small-batch gelato in one and a half gallon quantities." To maintain its unique texture and to keep it from freezing to a solid mass, gelato should be stored at a higher temperature than ice cream. Continuous churning is ideal; GELO accomplishes that feat using equipment imported from Italy.
The dessert-seeker can expect to choose from about six flavors daily. The staples are adopted straight from what's typical in Italy: vanilla, chocolate, and pistachio. But don't expect the pistachio to be green (nothing artificial is added) - or for it to taste like almonds (like your basic ice-cream shop pistachio). The GELO variety is made with ground pistachios, no extracts or almonds added, and the flavor is often a surprise to customers. The other three menu flavors feature seasonal ingredients, local when possible. On a day in early August, those flavors included Blackberry-Lemon-Basil, Honey-Lavender and Peaches & Cream. "It just so happens that you won't find a better peach than one that comes from Indiana in July," Hoover says.
Classic ice cream embellishments are available: the purist might enjoy house-made hot ganache, caramel sauce and/or whipped cream (prepared in an imported machine that guarantees no synthetic aftertaste). Other toppings include the salty and sweet: crushed pretzels, crumbled cookies, granola, sugared nuts, and classic chocolate sprinkles.
Hoover and Herald have also added classic pastries and other sweets to the mix. A Torte della Nonna (translating "Grandma's Cake") and Tiramisu are joined by seasonal cobblers and Double Dark Chocolate Brownies.
And even Italians like their sundaes, at least according to GELO. The GELO Classic is two scoops of vanilla gelato, hot chocolate ganache, whipped cream and sugared pecans - and also happens to be Hoover's favorite. "I don't eat at Petite Chou or Napolese without ending my meal with a bowl of vanilla gelato topped with tons of hot ganache and whipping cream," she says.
When it came to decor, Hoover wanted GELO "to look like someone stepped into a bowl of melted vanilla gelato." The interior is spare and elegant, with antique-style metal crank cafe tables and white mid-mod-inspired chairs. Like any good ice cream or gelato bar, the scent of sweet cream is as big a player in ambience as paint color, and that's easy to achieve with the machine churning batches front-and-center at the bar. The primary contrast in the small space comes from oversized gold-and-black menu boards, hand-painted and lettered with gold-inked transfers.
Hoover says its been a mostly smooth, trouble-free year for GELO Her biggest challenge? Shelling out the extra costs involved with sourcing and preparing artisanal products: "It takes more to make things from scratch." But she adds that most of her customers understand the situation, and are willing to pay the price: "It's a luxurious treat!"