“This is NOT a Cannoli” (But What Is?)

The very first day I went in to Brocato’s I was overwhelmed by the sheer variety of confectionary delights.  Some things were familiar to me as things that are distinctly Italian even though I myself may not have had them before.  There were jars of candy coated Almonds, a variety of biscotti to choose from, spumoni, and rum cake. Then there were the cannoli.  Or at least I thought they were cannoli.  However, they were listed as cannocini with a small sign below, distinctly stating: “This is NOT a cannoli.”  I was intrigued, because knowing what they were not did not help me in figuring out precisely what they were.  They appeared to be Italian cream filled cylinders, and I was failing to distinguish the difference.

My confusion regarding Brocato’s wares involved their frozen treats as well.  During our interview, Arthur Brocato repeatedly referred to his frozen concoctions as “Italian ice creams”.  I had considered them to be gelatos and ices.  When I looked to their website for clarification, I noticed the following: “For the true connoisseur, Brocato’s offers a complete selection of “gelato” (Italian for ice cream) featuring all natural imported Sicilian flavorings from chestnut to moka to amaretto.”

So, according to Brocato’s, “gelato” is Italian for “ice cream”.  Not being convinced that there wasn’t a bigger difference, I scoured the internet, and after looking through numerous Chowhound posts, Wikipedia postings, About.com answers and endless other streams of running commentary on the subject, I gathered that the general consensus is that gelato actually contains milk and cream as opposed to just cream and that the fact that is seems to be superbly creamy in comparison to its ice cream counterpart has more to do with the fact that it is mixed slowly enough that air doesn’t whip in, allowing for a much denser creamy texture.  As for the cannocini: when I finally gathered the determination to display my ignorance of Italian desserts and ask for the difference, I was told that they are filled with sweetened custard filling rather than sweetened ricotta as the cannoli are.

I bring up the cannoli and gelato examples not because I wish to nitpick Brocato’s selections and word choices but because I think they serve as excellent examples when it comes to the endless debate on authenticity. If Brocato’s chooses not to call its Italian Ice Cream “gelato”, does it make it any less authentic? Furthermore, if one is to consider the new twists to old tradition, such as spumoni cheesecake, then where does authenticity come in to question? Are we to assume that if it isn’t traditional it isn’t authentic?  If that’s the case, then nothing new or innovative would ever fit the definition, we’d be stuck in time forever, slaves to authenticity.

Several people have asked me how I feel about Juan’s Flying Burrito (another of my research subjects on the row) when compared with El Rinconcito or Fiesta Latina.  In other words, is Juan’s “authentic” Mexican food?  I would say that it all depends on the definition of authenticity.  I come from a place where a burrito is food to be held, lunch packed to go.  At Juan’s the burritos barely fit on the plate and they are often drenched in sauces.  Grasping one would be highly inadvisable. Does it make them something other than a burrito? Not if Juan’s says that’s what they are.

11 thoughts on ““This is NOT a Cannoli” (But What Is?)

  1. I’m pretty sure Brocato’s uses eggs in their gelato, which certainly sets them apart from other local places. It always taste a bit like custard to me.

    Think I noted this before, but I’ve read elsewhere that Brocato’s only added the dipped ice creams (as opposed to the sliced ones) when they moved to Carrollton.

    Have you been to the original Fiesta Latina in Kenner? It’s been a few years since my last visit, but the Carrollton location is a pale shadow of the original. No pupusas, no homemade chorizo, etc. Unless the menu has changed.

    • You are correct about the timeline on the dipped ice creams at Brocato’s. When the location was in the FQ, everything was still being made in long trays and cut out into slices. This was a factor of the type of freezer they were using. Some of their ice creams are still made this way, and I’ll have to ask why some flavors are still created this way and others are now scooped instead. As for Fiesta Latina, I have been to the one in Kenner, and though I do agree that the selection does seem to be larger I’m not sure that this one isn’t pretty good as well. I’ve enjoyed several meals there and I wasn’t disappointed. Also, Taqueria Guerrero makes nice pupusas if you are craving them and happen to be in Mid City.

      • Like I said, it’s been a while since I visited either location. The Kenner location, though, had more Central American food. When I tried the Carrollton location, they had no pupusas on the menu. (They also didn’t serve their amazing homemade chorizo.)

        Assuming the menu still leans toward Mexican instead of Central American fare, it might be worth asking them why it is different. Fiesta Latina in Kenner opened before the storm. There has always been a Central American population out there. After the storm, I stopped by and the Kenner location had become a real hangout for the influx of Latinos that arrived post-storm.

        Maybe they felt the Carrollton menu would appeal more to these new arrivals? Perhaps the original menu was aimed more at the established Central American population?

  2. Oh, and about the authentic question…

    Gelato ia just the Italian word for ice cream, isn’t it? It’s not like in Italy you have a choice between “ice cream” and “gelato.” We only recognize it as a distinct style in the U.S. because we have our distinct, pre-existing style.

    Arthur’s use of the term “Italian ice cream” is telling, because it marks him as a cultural insider who is just selling sweets instead of culture.

    Think about La Divina, in contrast. They’re selling something exotic and foreign. They’re selling a European experience as much as they’re selling dessert. They stress the difference between ice cream and gelato at their stores, and it’s hard to imagine them using the term “ice cream” for their products.

    Not sure if this makes sense. It’s 5:30 in the morning, and I haven’t had coffee yet.

  3. This is a great post! I think Todd’s comment also raises a good issue: what is Brocato’s selling, when compared to La Divina, for example? One of the striking things I have run across in my research on this project is that Brocato’s has been perceived as selling nostalgia (rather than authenticity) for a very long time — I ran into a review from the early 1970s on Brocato’s (then still in the Quarter) that suggested eating there was a nostalgic experience. I agree with Aubry that we have to take seriously the restaurateurs way of identifying their products (whether Brocato’s or Juan’s). But I also think we can juxtapose those claims with the conflicting perceptions consumers and critics apply.

  4. Aren’t dessert shops, on some level, always selling nostalgia for childhood?

    By the 1970s, how many remnants of the old Italian neighborhood were left in the Quarter? I’ve got no idea, but I assume a lot of Italians were moving to Lakeview and Metairie. That probably had something to do with Brocato’s decision to relocate.

  5. The article I read (in an early issue of Figaro, I think), did not specify exactly what they were being nostalgic about, but I don’t think it was old Italian New Orleans. Rather, it seemed like a more generic nostalgia for the good old days, before suburban sprawl and all that. That kind of nonspecific nostalgia was quite popular back then (and still is, I think).

  6. …and that is why it’s called “Juan’s Burrito.” Authenticity changes to suit the territory and this Juan must’ve hailed from New Mexico and not Mexico. Besides, if Juan made a true “Mexican” burrito as they are made in Mexico, he’d have to make hundreds of them at $2 a piece and the American template (and stomach) would not be satisfied. So you see, the authenticity changes to suit the needs of the territory. It’s still authentic, for it’s place and time. If you want the handheld kind of burrito, you might go home and visit your family…..I bet they could whip one up! (chile verde or chile colorado?)

    • If I could choose a burrito right now it would actually be chile relleno. Nothing beats nice long green chiles that have been properly roasted and good mexican cheese. Speaking of which, they are mailable, correct?

      • They actually are mailable and chile harvest time is right around the corner. That is usually when I buy a bag full, roast and peel, and then make the rellenos. Unfortunately, I don’t have your address….

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