Miabella Gelato | Submerge Photo by Melissa Welliver

True Flavor

When it comes to food and beverage, boy, is Sacramento looking a whole lot classier lately.

As the country’s leading farm-to-fork capital, not to mention a rapidly growing Mecca for all-craft-everything brewing, it would appear we run the gamut eats-wise for all our resident foodies and palate snobs looking to culture this town up a bit.

We even have gelato, for those who didn’t know. And for those that might have never heard of such a term, it’s essentially Italian-style ice cream, only better. No, literally.

Gelato, which consists of roughly 80 percent milk and 20 percent cream compared to ice cream’s traditional 50/50 mix and regular egg addition, is about half the fat and 10-times denser than your average 3.5 oz. cup of a Baskin-Robbins treat.

In other words, gelato gives you more bang for your buck at no extra cost to your waistline. Sweet, right?

Surprisingly, Sacramento has had gelato at its disposal for a little while now, with more than 10 ice cream parlors, yogurt shops and restaurants/cafés dishing out the Italian delicacy since the early 2010s, and even a couple from the mid-2000s, according to Yelp reviews.

Out of that small handful of early-going, exclusive gelato pioneers, Miabella Gelato was one of the Sacramento area’s firsts. And now, it’s finally movin’ on up to the east side … er, southwest, actually.

Having been in business at the Fountains in Roseville since 2008, the gelateria has now opened a second location, Miabella Gelato and Coffee, in Arden Fair’s Market Square, right alongside Smash Burger, Dos Coyotes and the United Artists movie theater.

On a recent late Monday afternoon, three of Miabella’s employees—who’ve only been at Market Square for about six weeks as of this writing—explained that the family-owned gelateria brings a true taste of Italy to their customers due to the internationally imported ingredients and the remarkably simple, DIY touch owner and operator Alan Vail has incorporated into the business.

They say Vail has his gelato base shipped directly from Italy, as well as some of the flavoring to his chocolate, mint and coffee-based selections. According to its website, all of Miabella’s gelato is made in-house, with fresh batches being concocted almost daily by Vail and his staff.

Miabella’s gelato-making includes measuring out base portions, matching those with the right amount of flavoring, churning the mixture with specialized machinery, pouring that equally into serving trays and finally cooling and storing it all either at the front of the store for sale or in a freezer in the back. All in all, the process takes about 30 minutes per flavor.

“What Alan told us was that when he started the gelato business, a guy that taught him just showed him the basics and was pretty much like, ‘OK, now you do the rest,’” says Sacramento’s Miabella co-manager Colleen Rhoades. “It just takes commitment and passion, and you have to like what you’re doing. And I think that’s what he’s doing.”

With more than 50 gelato and sorbetto (sorbet) flavors on tap—while only displaying 24 to the public at any given time—Rhoades says Vail has been more than open to dessert creation ideas from his team, especially seeing how Miabella already has gelato cakes, cupcakes and paninis as part of their menu in Roseville, where Vail’s sister Brianne Vail-Smith co-owns and operates as well.

“That’s expanding all the time,” Rhoades says of their versatile bill of fare. “We started doing brownies, and we’d cut them and make them into a gelato sandwich. And now [Alan’s] talking about getting a panini press to put donuts for that. So he’s up for anything right now. Like, if any of us has an idea, we tell him and if he can make it happen, he’ll do it. So he’s pretty flexible on what goes on around here.”

“The nice thing is anything you see out here is tried and true,” adds Miabella’s second co-manager at Market Square Ryan Berg. “If a flavor doesn’t sell, we just replace with it something we know is going to sell.”

Sticking to this do-what-works philosophy has proven successful for Vail, who realized the potential of tapping into his Italian roots and kickstarting a gelato operation here in Sacramento, where he says people were deprived of the rarely seen alternative to ice cream and frozen yogurt.

“We just figured it’d be something we could put into our business: the passion that, of course, our Italian side [of the family] has for food and that our Italian side has for great food. So that’s obviously helped,” Vail says. “But we found that this market in Sacramento, and California as a whole, actually, is not really represented in gelato—we are [made up of] more ice cream and yogurt. So we wanted to bring the much more flavorful, better-for-you product to this part of the country, which on the East Coast is very common.”

Aside from his creative gelato dessert options, on top of coffee conveniently available inside, Vail says what truly makes Miabella special is the personal touch he and his employees put into their craft.

“The secret ingredient is you make it yourself,” Vail says. “Most places do not make it themselves, because they either can’t or don’t want to. And as long as you make the product true to itself—just like you do in Italy—and you make it with the passion for the flavors, it all comes out perfectly.”

His hope, he says, is that Miabella brings a little more culture to Sacramento than there already was in the form of an extended Italian cuisine some folks might not have had the pleasure of knowing.

And as far as the real difference, he says, people will have to simply come and see for themselves.

“Just come taste the difference. The freshness of the product, the flavors are top of the line, and once you have it, you really can’t substitute anything for it.”

Miabella Gelato and Coffee is now open at 1735 Arden Way. You can also still visit their location in Roseville, at 1198 Roseville Parkway. For store hours and other information, go to Miabellagelato.com.