Usually our blogs focus on the menu of a specific restaurant, but today I want to gush about a particular dessert now available at a number of local restaurants in Sarasota. Oddly enough, that product hails NOT from balmy Florida, but from Brooklyn and before that; Paris – the one in France, not Texas.
The origin of the Tortoni hails back to the early 19th century and is attributed to Giuseppe Tortoni, a Neapolitan who owned the popular Café Tortoni in Paris, known for their ice cream and desserts. But the popularity of Tortoni really took off when introduced to America, where is was hugely popular during the mid-19th century, and sold in restaurants and street carts. Tortoni was an absolute must-have at any respectable Italian restaurant. We’re told that you either ordered a spumoni or a tortoni . . .that was it, as these were typically the only two choices on most menus.
But then something totally unexpected happened. . . the classic tortoni just disappeared. . . rarely to be seen again, and no one I asked could explain why.
Such a sad legacy for a delicious little dessert.
So, you ask, “If I can’t get a Tortoni without making one myself, why are those dang SarasotaFoodies telling me about them?”
Well . . . cut to Thanksgiving 2014, and the home kitchen of recently retired Alan Yaruss and marketing professional Karen Coltun. It seems the kids were flying in for the holiday, and Alan, a former chemist, wanted to make them something special for dessert — something that hailed back to his childhood in Brooklyn.
After trying other recipes that didn’t taste like the Tortoni he’d grown up with, Alan figured “Hey, I’m a chemist! I can figure this out myself.” And he did. He came up with their own recipe, served it to his family and they were amazed at how good it was. Score one for Dad!
A month later, Alan and Karen had dinner at Mozarrella Fellas, in downtown Sarasota. “Have you ever had a Tortoni?” Karen asked the owner, sharing the story of Alan’s Thanksgiving treat. “YOU know how to make a classic TORTONI?!!! asked Mike, the owner. “Can you wholesale them to me?”
They whipped up a dozen or so, delivered them to Mozarella Fellas and their guests and staff went nuts! The owner was so thrilled with their flavor he posted Alan’s business card on his Facebook page, and that’s when the “recently retired Alan” became “not-so-recently-retired Alan,” and Brooklyn Biscuit Tortoni Company was born, with Karen and Alan at the helm.
The funny part of this story is that Mozzarella Fellas’ Facebook post cut off the first digit of the Brooklyn-based cell phone number. The folks at Solorzanos saw the post and dialed every possible fist digit of the phone number until Alan answered. Naturally, that first digit was a 9! (I told you this was a popular dessert!)
Like Solorzanos, your SarasotaFoodies saw posts as even more restaurants started announcing that they, too, now offered classic Brooklyn Biscuit Tortoni on their menu, so we just had to find out for ourselves. Was the Tortoni worth all the accolades?
We took two Brooklyn Biscuit Tortoni into WSRQ Radio for our weekly radio segment (every Thursday at 4:30 pm) and did an on-air tasting with Sue Nilon and Kirsten Sponseller. Like us, they were enamored with the flavor, the texture and (drumroll, please) the only 130 calorie count! I could eat two!
The tortoni has been described as being “uninhibited by gravity yet also a tiny bit chewy.” (Don’t ask me why. . .) The flavor and texture are similar to ice cream, though classic tortoni has an almond scent and sometimes is enhanced with a little rum.
The difference between Tortoni and ice cream is found in how it’s made. While ice cream is made by blending cream, sugar and often eggs, then churning them in an ice cream maker, tortoni is a mixture of custard, meringue, and whipped cream. It is not tempered like ice cream, and never gets as hard as ice cream. It is more like a light and airy semifreddo mousse, with crumbled amaretti cookies on top.
So, we’re not going to tease you any further. Here’s a few restaurants where you’ll find Brooklyn Biscuit Tortoni:
- Mozzarella Fella – Main Street, Sarasota
- Café Don Giovanni – Gulf of Mexico Drive, Longboat Key
- Ciao Italia – Gulf of Mexico Drive, Longboat Key
- OMA Pizza – Gulf Drive, Anna Maria
- Francescos – Webber Street, Sarasota
- Solorzanos – Gulf Gate, Sarasota
- Baltimore Snowball Factory – South Orange Street, Sarasota
- 15 S. Restorante – St Armands
- Venezia, St. Armands
- Taste of Italy – St. Armands
- Caragiulos – Palm Avenue, Sarasota
- Demarco’s Italian Grill – Clark Road
- Bellacino’s – University Parkway
- Piccolo’s Italian Market – Gateway, Sarasota
- Karl Ehmer’s Alpine Steakhouse – S. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota
And get this . . . all this business happened, initially by word-of-mouth, in less than 2 months.
Thinking maybe you should try a Brooklyn Biscuit Tortoni? You know where to go. But if you want to buy a full tray of 2 dozen, give Alan and Karen a call!