A Guide to the Best Gelato in Florence, by Flavor
Especially in the summer, it seems like every other storefront in Florence sells gelato, so choosing the right place and the right flavor can be a little intimidating. Along with a comprehensive list of the city's best flavors and gelaterie, I'd like to give a little gelato primer, if you will, on how to choose an ice cream you won't regret (in case you forget the list I've prepared at home).
1. Start by looking for signs that say produzione propria, which means "house made," though even this is often not enough to guarantee that the gelato will be any good.
2. Every time I enter a new gelateria, I glance at the pistachio flavor. If it's neon green, then I leave. For me, this is a better indicator than produzione propria, because even homemade ice cream can be full of artificial flavors. Pistachios are relatively expensive, so many ice cream makers take the easy way out and use artificial flavors and colors to fake it. What makes gelato so lovely is the purity and explosiveness of its flavor -- if someone is stooping so low as to add food coloring to his or her pistachio gelato, then there's no telling what's being done to any of the other flavors.
3. My two favorite gelaterie, Vestri in Florence and San Crispino in Rome, use cylindrical steel containers to store their ice cream. The gelati are kept out of view, but are better refrigerated and preserved. For these places, the flavor of the gelato is advertisement enough -- they don't need to show their wares to attract customers, because they have the best product available. This sort of refrigeration system is more traditional, and also more expensive, than the hotel-pan-in-the-freezer-case setup that is much more common, but in my opinion, it is a sure sign that the gelato is of the highest quality.
4. When ordering gelato, try to limit yourself to three or four flavors. Having too many flavors can get messy, and it becomes difficult to tell which is which by the end of your cone or cup.
All of the gelaterie that I've listed below make their own ice cream from scratch using fresh, wholesome ingredients. For the most part, you can't go wrong choosing any flavor at any of them. But, each place does have its strong points, and I've generously done extensive taste testing to be able to bring you the best of each gelateria.
Alpina, Badiani, and Veneta are a little out of the way, and so, a little less touristy. Carabe' is run by a lovely Sicilian couple who bring up their ingredients from Sicilia regularly -- they also make delicious cannoli and cassata. Carrozza and Neri are two great options in the center. And Vestri is not so much a gelateria as an artisan chocolate shop that also happens to have some amazing gelati. Vivoli, a mainstay in guidebooks, lives up to the hype for the most part, though it is rather expensive, and its gelati tend to be very sweet.
Fior di latte: Vestri
Lemon: Carrozza or Carabe'
Mint Chocolate: Vestri
Mousse flavors: Vivoli
Persimmon (autumn): Vivoli
Rum crunch: Alpina
Wild Strawberry: Vestri
Any flavor of Granita: Carabe'
Alpina -- Viale Strozzi, 12/R (055.496.677)
Badiani--Viale dei Mille, 20/R (055.578.682)
Carabe'--Via Ricasoli, 60/R (055.289.476)
Carrozza -- Piazza del Pesce, 3-5 (055.239.6810)
Neri -- Via dei Neri, 20-22/R (055.210.034)
Veneta -- Piazza Beccaria, 7/R (055.234.3370)
Vestri -- Borgo degli Albizi, 11/R (055.234.0374)
Vivoli -- Via Isole delle Stinche, 7/R (055.292.334)