Recently I had to go to Philadelphia (for my sins, and for a big national conference). Philly is a foodie town, and on arrival I realized one of its best offerings was gelato.
I LOVE gelato, real gelato.
It’s not exactly on the low-carb diet, so I made a bargain with myself. There would be only one. It would be on the day I ate eggs and veggies for breakfast, and cheese plate and veggies for supper. It would be my whole lunch. And it would be the best Philly had to offer.
Googling “Best Gelato in Philly” on TripAdvisor revealed that GRAN CAFFE L’AQUILA was within walking distance for my limited lunch slot. But when I arrived, a woman alone, wanting only gelato, the waiter didn’t want to seat me. A brief struggle ensued. I was given one of the high tables in the restaurant’s central section and pretty much told to eat and get out.
Never mind; there were 14 glorious choices on the menu, with names that implied honey, almonds, and chocolate in the most decadent menage a trois kind of pairings. (Yes, I know.)
I ordered via the glowering waiter. While anticipating the glorious delivery, I perused the room. At the normal-sized table below and in front of me sat four older men whose order arrived in small artistic arrangements on square plates. Little balls of things with sauces and caviar accompaniments. They were engaged in a business meeting, and from their clothes and the casual dismissive power exuding from their gestures, it was clear that these men could have owned Philadelphia if it hadn’t been a little beneath them to do so. They were more likely after New York or Tokyo.
People walking through the restaurant greeted them with deference, and at least one of these lesser men got blown off in a fairly public way. These guys were capital R rich.
Soon my two scoops, long spoon and wafer arrived, driving all people watching out of my head. I began, slowly, savoring, sucking down and trying not to moan out loud. A small mix of the two flavors for experiment, separate spoons of each, one bite on the wafer; it was lovely.
Amidst this creamy dream, as a bee’s buzz invades a summer garden sojourn, I became aware that the four Riches were talking about me. Furtive glances, small giggles, boyishness.
I glanced down at them. The one sitting opposite caught my eye, knew the gig was up, and smiled in a “we mean no harm” kind of way. Gesturing to his friends, who had now swiveled in their chairs to face me, he said, “We were enjoying watching you enjoy that.”
I smiled back. “Nothing like this in my small town. I’ve been dreaming of it for days.”
The nearest man (balding, cashmere jacket) spoke. “Well, I couldn’t have made that last like you are. I don’t have that kind of discipline.”
Blue blazer who blew off the supplicant earlier added, “That’s why they sat you at that high table, so people could look in the window and see how happy you are. That’s advertising money can’t buy.”
The fourth man said, with a bit of caution, “In the best sense, this is one of those ‘I’ll have what she’s having’ moments.” And looked relieved when I smiled and nodded.
In gentlemanly retreat they turned to their little round things on small plates and I went back to my beloved. The waiter stopped trying hurry me, now I had powerful friends, and I admit to being in something of a time-stopped sugar-glazed daze when the spoon at last found no more inside the glass. The line of people waiting to get tables was now out the door.
As I hopped off my perch next to the Rich Man’s table, I paused. They looked up from their now-intense meeting.
“Gentlemen, don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened.” With a slight bow I went out the door past the hopeful patrons trying to have what I was having.
There are a few places where society levels, where it doesn’t matter how much power you normally yield, all people are suddenly and truly equal. Parent-teacher conferences. Doctor’s appointments. I’m not sure gelaterias are one of them, but then, I wasn’t there for the guys.