Their hours of operation are what initially kept me away from Rio de Gelato. The small gelateria and pizzeria reopened in December at a new location at the corner of Nueva and Navarro. Their bright pink signage and proximity to three parking lots was appealing, but my timing seemed to be off during most of my attempts.
After a reader (not quite kindly) pointed out our egregious mistake of not including Rio de Gelato in a downtown eatery roundup, I decided to make it a point to visit the location posthaste (so yeah, bitching to your local food writer does work from time to time).
Open from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday, noon to 9 p.m. Saturday and noon to 7 p.m. Sunday, Rio de Gelato really does require a planned visit unless you're within walking distance of the shop. But once inside, the space comes alive with the smell of doughy goodness and sweets in the form of gelato and cannolis.
Owner Alfredo Pisano was the only staffer present, working both front and back of the house and though he may have come off a bit frazzled, his lunch special wasn't affected by the sudden rush of attorneys and downtown dwellers that filled the tiny dining room. Our slices came out in a matter of minutes, while we noshed on a chocolate-dipped cannoli (Pisano's mother's recipe: "She's gone, but the cannoli lives").
The pizza is honest. Two slices and a drink will put you back just over $9. Pisano uses a mild, large and thinly sliced pepperoni which helps set it apart from other pies in the vicinity. The crisp and sturdy crust doesn't hurt, either. My co-worker and I ordered a pizza so we could check out other offerings — the special only features cheese and pepperoni — but the pie was underwhelming. On paper, the pizza fiamma with bell pepper, sausage, pepperoni, prosciutto and oven-roasted tomatoes sounded amazing, but the results were a bit of a dud and we couldn't find a hint of prosciutto. At $21 for a large 16-inch pie, that oversight was a bit too much to forgive.
As its moniker would suggest, the shop knows its way around ice cream. Colleague Albert "I visited Italy once" Salazar (who also happens to have an Italian minor) raved about the gelato spread, which included crema bourgeois, a dolciani and a spiaggia. Literally meaning "beach," the spiaggia included raspberry, pistachio and sweet cream. Had I not had to return to the office, the gelato would have made for a fun treat to enjoy strolling through downtown.
Come for the pizza, but stay for the sweets at Rio de Gelato, where your hardest choice will be which gelato combination to pick.
102 Navarro St., (210) 223-0800
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