733 Copeland St., Shadyside
Unless you're talking unadorned fresh fruit, I'm not big on desserts that skimp on fat. Especially desserts that boast about skimping on fat.
So I was disconcerted to learn from its website that the award-winning Mercurio's Mulberry Creamery considers it a selling point that its specialty, gelato, has 7 percent butterfat, whereas ice cream requires at least 10 percent, with some premium brands plumping up to 16 percent.
Granted, there are health concerns in play. Moreover, this creamery was actually founded by a physician: Rick Mercurio, who with his wife, Linda, launched the business in Kittanning and moved the retail end to Shadyside in 2005. But dessert is about health how? And gelato is, after all, just Italian for "ice cream."
However, as with coffee and political parties, the Italians do things a bit differently. While American ice cream is fluffed with enough air to as much as double its volume, gelato is much less so. Hence its denser texture, and a creaminess belying the lower levels of actual cream.
There's other good stuff going on, too. Mercurio's gelato is still hand-crafted in Kittanning, using milk from local, grass-fed, hormone-free cows. (That's healthier and better-tasting.) The sweets are trucked south daily to the bright and modest Copeland Street store, just off Walnut.
Small though it may be, the creamery has been winning awards at the National Ice Cream Retailers convention for a decade. In 2009, it scored Best New Flavor (Honey Sunflower) and Best Coffee Flavor (Caramel Latte).
Indeed, the selection is both inventive and as diverse as at any big-time ice-cream outlet. Some 30 flavors are offered every day, with another dozen in regular rotation. The stainless-steel gelato trays display everything from plain chocolate and vanilla custard to Guinness Cream, from Green Tea and a no-sugar-added butter pecan to Strawberry Cheesecake. Nondairy choices include lemon sorbet.
By the cone or the cup, it's 62 cents an ounce. There are also gelato sundaes, shakes and smoothies. The day I visited, the special was a Peach Mango sundae ($4.99).
I bought a waffle cone (about $4.50). To be candid, there was no way I wasn't going to like something called "Dark Chocolate Striacatella," especially if it took the form of a close relative of ice cream. And in this case, indubitably, the leaner relation tasted just as fine.