Whether you call it a drink or a dessert, the affogato al caffè—a cup of gelato, typically vanilla, “drowned” in hot espresso—is a summer staple in Italy and, increasingly, in New York, where pastry chefs have started taking all sorts of creative liberties with the classic combination. There are many things to love about it: its sophisticated, grown-up taste, its ease of service, and the way it takes the edge off a badly brewed espresso, rendering something that started out bitter into a bracing, creamy coffee shake. Here are some of the best, from the traditional to the outré.
Barbuto 775 Washington St., at W. 12th St.; 212-924-9700 There are few more carefree ways to spend a summer afternoon than lingering over an affogato at Barbuto. If they’ve got it, they’ll let you swap in hazelnut for the standard Il Laboratorio del Gelato vanilla.
P*Ong 150 W. 10th St., nr. Waverly Pl.; 212-929-0898 Pichet Ong’s version, inspired by the proximity of Little Italy and Chinatown, combines tapioca pearls, mango purée, avocado ice cream, and Vietnamese coffee.
Fiamma 206 Spring St., nr. Sixth Ave.; 212-653-0100 As radically loose an interpretation as you’ll ever find: a warm chocolate crostata, a scoop of gianduja gelato, a smattering of smoked hazelnuts, and a tiny pitcher of rum-and-cinnamon-flavored espresso that your server wouldn’t dare allow you to pour yourself.
I Sodi 105 Christopher St., nr. Bleecker St.; 212-414-5774 Like everything else at Rita Sodi’s elegant Tuscan restaurant, the affogato is authentic: a bountiful scoop of Capogiro vanilla gelato drowned in Danesi espresso.
Otto Enoteca Pizzeria 1 Fifth Ave., at 8th St; 212-995-9559 You figure if you take the best vanilla gelato in town and pour a little espresso over it, you’re going to have something pretty great. And that you do in pastry chef Meredith Kurtzman’s whipped-cream- topped version.
Wakiya 2 Lexington Ave., at 21st St.; 212-995-1330 A sweet story: Milanese pastry chef Gabriele Riva concocted this East-meets-West affogato for his Vietnamese girlfriend. The gelato, the Vietnamese-coffee cream, and the cookie crumble are made in-house; the Vietnamese coffee filters, Riva found in Chinatown.
Photos: Zach Desart for New York Magazine; Rebecca Sahn for New York Magazine (P*Ong)