Of course, the place to go for fussy coffee beverages is Starbucks. But consider instead Italian affogato, usually made with a lump of vanilla gelato, with a shot or two of espresso poured over it. To me, it’s a much more satisfying way to turn high-octane coffee into a dessert.
One of the specialties of Caffe Panna, just off Union Square on Irving Place, is affogato in several permutations. No longer must you be satisfied with the coffee and vanilla flavor combo. The place, which is owned by Danny Meyer’s daughter Hallie Meyer, offers four affogatos, including classico, coffee, chocolate, and a special affogato that changes daily.
I picked the special affogato ($8 for one shot of espresso, $10 for two). It started with a couple of scoops of coconut ice cream, then was bolstered by Guam cookies, Guam honey, and an additional scoop of good stiff whipped cream. I was blown away by its crunchy, sweet, and and salty flavor combination, so I called Meyer to talk about it as soon as I got home.
She told me her boyfriend’s mom was from Guam, and a friend there sent the coconut cookies. So they worked them into a brittle, which is the crunchy stuff on top of the ice cream. An uncle in Guam also keeps bees, so they sent some honey, and that’s the syrup poured over the ice cream, in addition to the espresso. Caffe Panna’s daily affogato is apparently always inspired by the materials at hand.
Ditto with the special sundae of the day ($10), and there’s also a very special sundae ($15). This day both featured a long list of ingredients, one involving lemon stracciatella ice cream and raspberry Twizzler taffy, the other pumpkin spice krispie treat and molasses ginger peach ice cream. Don’t expect complete tradition where affogatos or sundaes are concerned.
Caffe Panna has nine types of ice cream, with four changing on a regular basis. A series of drizzles, crunchies, and other miscellaneous toppings are available. My last question for Meyer was about that white cloud of stuff on top. “That’s panna,” she replied, the Italian word for cream, and the inspiration for the establishment. She sources it from the Piedmont region of Italy, and that’s why it’s so thick. At Caffe Panna, you can have it on almost everything. 77 Irving Pl, at 19th Street, Union Square
[Note: This post has been updated to clarify details about the ingredients from Guam.]