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Jim Bovino, tending his urban garden with Jillia Pessenda, is joining forces with area restaurants to hold a farm dinner on his land.

Tom Wallace, Star Tribune file

Counter intelligence: A Grand new scoop shop

  • September 12, 2012 - 2:21 PM
A grand new Grand Avenue scoop shop

Here's how KaTrina and Paul Wentzel, proprietors of the Wine Thief and Ale Jail in St. Paul's Mac-Groveland neighborhood, came to open a gelato shop: "Like so many people, you go to Italy, you eat all this gelato, and you have pipe dreams," said KaTrina with a laugh.

Lots of training later -- including a 10-day immersion course in Bologna, Italy -- and the couple have launched Cow Bella (1700 Grand Av., St. Paul, 651-340-0585, www.cowbellagelato.com). They're skipping the usual gelato-from-a-kit route in favor of creating a terrific made-from-scratch product, emphasizing premium -- and often local -- ingredients, starting with whole milk from pasture-raised cows at Autumnwood Farm in Forest Lake.

The shop's showy, old-school gelato machine ("the only thing I hug more is my husband," said KaTrina) perched in the shop's front window is at work all day, turning out flavor-packed 4-liter batches.

The swoon-worthy pistachio skips the usual paste in favor of freshly ground organic pistachios, sourced from a small California farm. The intense dark chocolate hails from top-rated Askinosie Chocolate. Locally grown cantaloupes and cucumbers are the basis for a refreshing sorbet, and a sweet corn gelato calls upon golden Minnesota-cultivated kernels. The list goes on and on.

Open less than a week, the shop's kitchen is already busy formulating new seasonal flavors. First up: Perfecting a bacon extract (crafted from Wisconsin-made Nueske's) and blending it with a lightly salted caramel. Sounds like a winner, right?

The scoop case isn't the array of open trays often associated with gelato stands. The Wentzels are opting for the traditional covered containers called pozzetti, designed to preserve the nuances of their artisanal product. "I'm just worried that it's going to be a harder sell, because people eat with their eyes," KaTrina said.

No matter: Samples of the shop's 12 to 18 flavors are free. Tiny cones go for $1.25, and scoops run $3.85 to $5.55.

(Here's a lovely little secret about gelato: Despite its dense, super-creamy texture, it's significantly lower in both fat content and calories than ice cream, because it's made with milk rather than cream.)

On Friday, the couple's other ventures will be celebrating their anniversaries, turning over their parking lot (1787 St. Clair Av., St. Paul, www.winethief.net) to more than two dozen sample-happy wine and beer vendors; the nearby Blue Door Pub will be selling hot-off-the-grill burgers. The event runs from 4 to 7 p.m. Dessert? Make the very pleasant five-block walk to Cow Bella.

Farm dinner in the city

Get a genuine taste of northeast Minneapolis on Sept. 21, when urban farmer (and Bachelor Farmer server) Jim Bovino teams up with Modern Cafe chef/co-owner Jim Grell and Mike Phillips of Three Sons Meat Co. at a dinner at Bovino's two-acre garden outside the California Building (2205 NE. California St.).

Grell is promising venision with huckleberries and okra, cranberry beans "that we're going to cook up in a lovely way," a pear dessert served with nocino (a liqueur made from black walnuts foraged from a northeast Minneapolis back yard) and more. The event starts at 5:30 p.m. with a reception featuring beer from Indeed Brewing Co. Cost is $75 per person; for reservations, call 612-378-9882.

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