With critical darling Capogiro in town, a new gelateria can't help but be compared, and in this particular case, pale in comparison. It's too bad, because Cafe Toscano's gelato is pretty damn good.
Located at 609 Chestnut St., Cafe Toscano shouldn't struggle for customers, especially during the warmer months. Packs of tourists shuffle by the street during the week, moving to and fro the Liberty Bell Center and Independence Hall. (It would be in the gelateria's best interest to invest in a more visible sign; tourists are attracted to bright lights.) Rather than aiming to attract thrill-seeking foodies and the organic-naturalist crowd, Cafe Toscano offers tamer flavors for whole-family appeal. This, of course, is not a fault as long as the gelati are quality. Besides, there are some imaginative flavors, like Tartufo (truffles), Cannolo Siciliano, Tiramisu, and G-Power (sports drink), to name a few.
Without fussily pairing my flavors, I chose a scoop of Cannolo Siciliano and Panna Cotta, which were crammed into the smallest cup. (Don't quote me, but the small cup was approximately $3.30 including tax.) Both gelati had the signature creamy, not icey, consistency. Without a cup-to-cup comparison, it would be difficult to distinguish differences between Capogiro's and Toscano's gelati, but I felt that the the latter's was more akin to a rich ice cream on the tongue. As for taste, the Cannolo Siciliano was gustatorily arresting. Immediately I got the sense that I was savoring a cool ricotta cannoli. The sweet ricotta gelato was rife with tiny bits of crunchy cannoli shell, giving it a fitting touch of authenticity.
My other flavor choice, Panna Cotta, was much less interesting. It tasted similar to a vanilla gelato, but with a taste more redolent of eggs and cream than of vanilla bean (and Panna Cotta is an eggless custard!).
On the strength of the Cannolo alone, I can recommend trying Cafe Toscano. With such a varied selection of flavors, ranging from the conventional to the kid-friendly (Oreo) and beyond, it's hard to ignore this new gelateria's appeal. It may not equal Capogiro's ice cream transcendence, but who can? Cafe Toscano is Philly's second best spot for the creamy confection, and that's saying alot.