Chorney-Booth: Amato serves a taste of Italian culture at new 17th Avenue cafe

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There was a time when gelato was an uncommon sight in Calgary – finding a cup of nocciola or stracciatella used to require a trip to Italy (or, at the very least, Vancouver). Calgarians’ quest for gelato became a lot easier in 2003 when young entrepreneur Dino Falvo opened Amato Gelato on Kensington Road to sell his family’s Mario Gelato brand, which he had already been quietly providing to local restaurants and specialty shops.

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While Kensington Amato has been going strong ever since, Falvo always dreamed of owning a traditional Italian-style dessert bar that went beyond what he’s doing at his gelateria. When a spot became available on the corner of 5th Street and 17th Avenue SW in the food vendor-heavy real estate development known as The Fifth, Falvo knew that it was a good fit for the European concept he had in mind. The shop, also called Amato, opened its doors this past February but celebrated its official grand opening at the end of May.

Amato owner Dino Falvo imports Italian pastries to add to the new 17th Avenue SW shop's menu of dozens of gelato flavors.  Gavin Young / Post Media
Amato owner Dino Falvo imports Italian pastries to add to the new 17th Avenue SW shop’s menu of dozens of gelato flavors. Gavin Young / Post Media Gavin Young/Post Media

While the new Amato still has a gelato counter, it’s smaller and less of a focal point. Falvo employed the help of interior designer Michelle Levesque to create classic decor that looks like it was pulled straight out of Italy with rich wood paneling, old school glass bakery and gelato cases, opulent light fixtures and hanging plants. Falvo’s vision of him included a 65-seat patio that faces one of the city’s busiest corners.

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Running a popular business for 20 years has given Falvo a good feel for what works and he knew he needed to fill a gap in the Calgary market. Amato’s concept will be instantly recognizable to anyone who has spent significant time in Europe, but this style of eatery hasn’t been easy to find locally. He also knew that the Beltline location needed something that made sense throughout the day. The new location opens at 9 am for the leisurely espresso crowd, serves panini, pizza, and other lunch items mid-day, and then moves into an appetizer hour with Italian cocktails and complimentary snacks from 2:30 to 6 pm, not closing until well after the dinner hour so Beltline revellers can pop in for a piece of cake and a nightcap or affogato before heading home.

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The coffer served at Amato's new location on the corner of 17th Avenue and 5th Street SW is a private roast from Italy.  Gavin Young/Post Media
The coffer served at Amato’s new location on the corner of 17th Avenue and 5th Street SW is a private roast from Italy. Gavin Young/Post Media Gavin Young/Post Media

“This is not a coffee bar, it’s a dessert cafe Italian bar. When you say ‘bar’ people think it’s something different, but in Italy ‘bar’ doesn’t just mean a drinking establishment,” Falvo says. “The city has always had Italian restaurants but no one is doing a real Italian coffee bar outside of a grocery setting. There’s never been one here on 17th.”

Beyond the gelato, which comes from the Vancouver-based Mario’s, Falvo’s rule of thumb for what’s sold at Amato is that it has to be Italian. The wine and beer are Italian. The pastries are imported from Milan. The coffee is a private roast made just for Falvo in Italy. The cocktails are all Italian in origin, with three kinds of Negroni, grappa sours, and a tiramisu martini. He also tries to keep old-school Italian pricing, with most desserts under the $5 mark, cocktails at $12, and a shot of espresso going for a single Euro (or $1.50 Canadian).

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The new Amato Gelato location is at 602 17th Ave. SW and can be reached through amatogelatoalberta.com.

Amato's new location drew inspiration from classic Italian dessert bars.  Gavin Young/Post Media
Amato’s new location drew inspiration from classic Italian dessert bars. Gavin Young/Post Media Gavin Young/Post Media

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Amato isn’t the only growing purveyor of frozen treats. Abbey’s Creations, which has been wowing fans with its unique flavors from its Montgomery location for two years, is in a rapid mode of expansion. The company opened a new shop on McCall Way at the beginning of the year, a third location in Pacific Place Mall in May, a fourth in Cochrane a little over a week ago, and a fifth is scheduled to open in Inglewood later this week. The ice cream is of premium quality, but it’s the flavors that stand out, all formulated by owner Abbey Claro, who is originally from the Philippines. Varieties include brown sugar boba, salted egg, durian, and a surprisingly delicious ube queso, along with more standard flavors. For more information and addresses for all of those new locations, visit abbeyscreations.com.

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Not quite as new, but worth checking out is the scoop shop from local small-batch ice cream makers Milk, which opened at 2614 4th St. NW last summer. Run by two cousins ​​whose parents hail from Vietnam, Milk also specializes in Asian-inspired flavors like Hong Kong milk tea, pandan, and “milk bunny,” a riff on Chinese White Rabbit milk candies, as well as nostalgic flavors like Dunkaroo. A full list is available at milkicecreamshop.com.

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In other restaurant news, there’s a new local initiative called The Hospitality Healing Project that aims to help Calgary food industry professionals suffering from burnout and other work-related mental health issues. Started by a group of industry alumni and SABI Mind, a company that offers psychedelic-assisted therapy, the program offers complimentary consultations, peer support, and other resources as well as subsidized counseling and therapy sessions. For more information or to access services, visit hospitalityhealingproject.com.

Elizabeth Chorney-Booth can be reached at elizabooth@gmail.com. Follow her on Twitter at @elizaboothy or Instagram at @elizabooth

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