At Angelo Brocato's Italian Ice Cream & Italian Desserts (214 N. Carrollton Ave., 504-486-1465; www.angelobrocatoicecream.com), New Orleanians partake in a century-old tradition as they peruse a palette of 24 vibrantly hued gelatos and ices. "We take a great deal of pride in having relationships with families for multiple generations, whether we see them only around the holidays or every weekend," says operations assistant Emily Capdeville.
Open since 1905, the family-owned ice cream shop spans three generations. Angelo Brocato, grandfather of current owner Arthur Brocato, learned the dessert trade in the late 1800s as an apprentice in Palermo, Italy. He immigrated to Donaldsonville, La., where he worked on a sugar cane plantation until he saved enough money to open an ice cream shop in the French Quarter. In 1905, the modest store opened on Ursulines Avenue. Most ice cream vendors sold their treats from stands or carts during this period, and the tiny business became one of Louisiana's first sit-down ice cream parlors. Brocato eventually relocated to a larger site on the 600 block. The new ice cream emporium was a double parlor modeled after Palermo's sweets shops. It featured ceramic tile floors, ceiling fans and ornately molded cornices.
By the late 1970s, the French Quarter was becoming harder to access by car, and fewer people lived there full-time, Capdeville says. "We were the last remnants of families living down there as it became commercialized," Brocato says. In 1979, the Brocato family moved the shop to its present location on North Carrollton Avenue in Mid-City "to have more space to expand and modernize our production area," Capdeville says. The French Quarter location remained open until 1981.
The parlor maintains the spirit of Angelo Brocato's first venture but tweaks its desserts to suit modern tastes. The Mid-City shop introduced cones for gelato and began serving staples such as baci, stracciatella and zuppa inglese in scoops. The menu features seasonal flavors of gelato and Italian ice. For spring, the Brocatos offer jasmine gelato, which translates the flower's delicate notes into a light, subtle flavor. Blood orange ice finishes with faint tartness.
Although flavors may change, the quaint parlor remains a throwback to the business's Old World roots.
"The atmosphere we try to maintain in the shop is definitely one that serves as a reminder of what those parlors were like when the original Angelo apprenticed back in Palermo," Capdeville says.
"It's important to bring people back in time," says owner Arthur Brocato. "It's a comforting feeling."