The flavors in the freezer case at La Divina Gelateria pose a lot of questions, more than two dozen in fact. For instance, will it be the mouth-coating dulce de leche gelato or tart lime sorbetto? To another way of thinking, La Divina Gelateria poses a larger question: Can visiting the gelato parlor be something more than an indulgence and instead feel virtuous, or at least conscientious?
If you're into the eat local trend, the answer likely is "yes" and arguments for the case pile up not just with gelato built from Louisiana-grown sugar and fruit. It also arrives on the savory side in the form of a pressed daube sandwich, its Italian-style pot roast sourced from grass-fed cows and dressed with kale and smoky, crushed tomatoes. Or it's the mercato salad with rippling-fresh greens, feta, snap peas (with audible snap) and zucchini strands sliced so thin you can twirl them like noodles.
La Divina is one of 20 New Orleans restaurants participating in the monthlong Eat Local Challenge, which asks people to eat only foods produced within 200 miles of home during June. This month La Divina features a blueberry and basil sorbetto designed to meet the challenge criteria. Plenty of other flavors also qualify, but more important, the year-round operation at the gelateria fits the spirit of keeping things local and sustainable, even if it doesn't always strictly meet the letter of the event rules. But if you're making gelato with milk from Ryals Rocking R Dairy, a local farmers market favorite, and adding French chocolate or Kentucky bourbon, I say you're still keeping the heavy lifting local.
Katrina and Carmelo Turillo first opened La Divina in 2007 on a business model of traditional Italian gelati, local sourcing and green design (go-cups here are compostable, for example).
Last year, they brought on Mia Calamia, formerly pastry chef at Patois and Herbsaint, to burnish the nongelato side of things. That accounts for the small selection of baked goods (try the chocolate and sea salt shortbread, then smear some of the intense Valrhona chocolate gelato on it). The salads are smartly composed, faithfully fresh and light, and the panini menu has some interesting entries to the pressed sandwich genre. The roasted pork for the porchetta is luscious enough to stick to your teeth and sparked up with a spicy/sweet mostarda. The muffalino, on the other hand, was too slim and short on olive salad to quell any muffuletta cravings. The macaroni and cheese, oily and redolent of truffles, somehow seems more decadent than the gelato.
They make some strong Italian coffee drinks here, which supplies a plausible excuse to drop by when La Divina opens at 7 a.m. for a little breakfast sorbetto. Making an erstwhile dessert your first meal of the day may bring on guilty feelings. But the way I look at it, the farmers behind these flavors got up early to make it happen and, well, we're all in this sustainable thing together.