“Most ice cream shops are blues and whites, cold colors,” Ciska Weber says. “I wanted it to feel cozy and warm here.”
She’s talking about the melon and pink-painted walls of Café Gelato that mirror the summery cantaloupe and strawberry confections in the glowing, glass-windowed freezer. Weber, the founder and majority owner of the Winston-Salem storefront, grew up on the island of Terschelling in northern Holland and, after finding herself in North Carolina, got into making gelato and sorbet at the offhanded suggestion of a friend.
“I didn’t know that much about gelato,” she said, “so as I was doing some research I found this little place on Reynolda and it turns out the company that makes [frozen dessert] machines, their American headquarters is in Winston-Salem. It felt like it was meant to be.”
Weber opened the door of her brick-and-mortar at 845 Reynolda Road in 2006. Along with daily-made gelato and sorbet, she offers wine by the glass or bottle, soda, tea and espresso for cappuccinos or affogato-style gelato servings. On July 14, she and her partner Christopher Edwards opened a second location at 1612 S. Hawthorne Road which also serves Boba teas.
The original location’s cozy interior features three petite bistro tables, bar-seating overlooking Hanes Park and a table just outside — prime real estate in warmer months. Natural sunlight bathes both cafés through big, bay windows and Weber maintains tabletop vases of fresh flowers and succulents.
Learn more at cafegelatowinston.com.
“A lot of people like gelato because it’s not as fattening as ice cream and it’s easier on the stomach,” she says. Neither gelato nor sorbet require heavy cream like ice cream or custard.
“I have to say I think cardamom is my favorite, but lemon mint is pretty amazing” she says. “The bestselling gelato is chocolate, and then for sorbet, lemon then mango probably and mixed berry, pistachio and roasted almond.”
Weber sources from the Triad Buying Co-op in downtown Winston-Salem, the Cobblestone Farmer’s Market and occasionally Sam’s Club for ingredients like Nutella.
Referring to the Cobblestone Market in Old Salem Weber says, “It’s very inspiring because when I go there. I’ll see different stuff and I’m like, ‘Oh I could make gelato with this,’ and it feels good when I make a black raspberry that’s from Plum Granny Farm or when I make cantaloupe from the guy across the way. Fairshare, they have their fruit sometimes, too. I use whatever is seasonal.”
Sorbet is non-dairy and non-fat, as are all her fruit-flavored gelatos, making them apt options for vegans and the lactose intolerant. All require about the same amount of sugar, though, because it largely determines the dessert’s consistency.
There are two ways to do it: hot or cold. Weber uses the cold process due to limited space — the hot process necessitates a prohibitively expensive, large machine that controls temperature and is capable of pasteurizing the milk used in some flavors. She starts with sugar and a different powder base for either gelato and sorbet, which she sources from PreGel in Concord. For sorbet and fruit-flavored gelato she’ll add lemon juice, a stabilizer, fresh fruit and a homemade fruit paste in an immersion blender.
“What that does is keep the flavor consistent because sometimes you have a strawberry that has a lot of flavor and sometimes a strawberry that has no flavor, so if you just put strawberries in by themselves, you could end up with a pretty bland gelato depending on the time of year,” she explains. “It’s almost like an intense homemade jam.”
For non-fruit gelato flavors, she reaches for whole milk from Homeland Creamery and skips lemon juice.
Customers can find classics like chocolate alongside novelties like pistachio, and gelato and sorbet made from just about every fruit available in the state: strawberry, mango, pineapple, lemon, peach, blood orange, banana, mixed berry and more. The peach crop was excellent this year — I recommend pairing with toasted almond. Weber experiments with herbs like elderflower, too, and makes a mean lemon basil. Occasionally, she will wrestle with the frustrating but delicious pawpaw fruit, somewhat out of love for its unique flavor, but mostly for her customers who are always asking for their favorites.
“What I love so much is that people are always happy when they come here, and they tend to stay in a good mood,” Weber says. “The friendships that I’ve made, being in this location and now our new store.”