see my ‘affogato wars of DC‘ post
Pitango Gelato is a local chain featuring their own high-end gelatos and sorbets, and coffee made with beans from local roaster Vigilante Coffee (if the name sounds familiar, you may have read about Vigilante here).
Pitango has six outlets: three in DC, two in Baltimore, and one in Reston, VA. I’d previously visited the Reston outlet, but for the affogato comparisons I went to their newest shop in DC’s Adams Morgan neighborhood. This location is a cafe which also offers a wider food menu and alcohol.
First, the space is gorgeous. It combines two storefronts, in a large apartment building that sits on what be my favorite block in Washington. This particular stretch of Columbia Road features stately old stone and brick apartment blocks, a wide road, broad sidewalks, interesting local restaurants and retail, all without being quite as busy as nearby 18th Street, which is the heartbeat of Adams Morgan’s retail, restaurant and bar scene.
The cafe’s interior is spacious and flooded by light from the large streetfront windows and a big skylight. Materials are high quality, featuring medium toned wood, light marble, white subway tiles, cement floors, architectural details which I don’t have the vocabulary to identify, and plenty of seating at tables, a long bar, and a few sofas. The overall effect inside is a place that feels entrenched and permanent, without being staid and dated. There is a nice section of sidewalk seating shaded by umbrellas.
It was the middle of a weekday, but the shop was packed with customers in no particular hurry to be anywhere; despite this, the noise levels were very manageable (and not everyone had their nose buried in their device, there were actual conversations taking place). This is the quintessential coffee shop where you’d like to linger drinking coffee, eating, chatting with friends, reading, or just doing not much of anything.
Okay, fine, it’s a delightful spot to visit, but what about the coffee and the gelato and the affogato?
The affogato, it sure ain’t pretty to look at. The gelato was formed in peaks, with the espresso around it and filling a crater in the middle. The visual effect was a bit like mashed potatoes drowning in way too much gravy.
But this isn’t a beauty contest, and the taste was superb. The gelato was rich, creamy, refreshing, had a good strong natural vanilla flavor, but not too sweet, not too heavy. I’ve come to learn on these taste tests that I prefer the ratio to be heavier on gelato; more like ice cream with coffee, rather than a coffee float, if you will. Make the gelato the star, with a strong coffee accent. This was a nice example of that, which made a nice drink as the gelato melted in. Lovely.
The coffee, well, not so much. I’m a fan of Vigilante, but my macchiato was pretty bland. I don’t know if it was the house espresso blend that Vigilante makes specially for Pitango not hitting my flavor buttons, or too much foam, or the barista had the coffee/water ratio wrong, but overall? Pretty meh; I don’t remember being this unimpressed in Reston, so assume it was some factor that day and not an indictment of the blend.
There were some interesting gelato and sorbet flavors on offer that day, and I usually like something with fruit in it but all the fruit flavors that day were sorbet. So I tried the coconut gelato, and enjoyed it at the outdoor tables. It was good, but my reaction was mixed. I liked the coconut flavor, which tasted natural, but it was a bit too sweet and there was a gumminess that I didn’t enjoy. My biggest objection was the price, as the smaller size was $6.09 plus tax, which is just far too much. The affogato was only $5!
Despite some misgivings, overall I’m sold on the Adams Morgan Pitango. I’d go for the vanilla next time I’m having gelato; the affogato was great; and maybe the coffee will be better another time. I love the atmosphere, and I fell in love with a very sweet dog in the outdoor seating.
Pitango Gelato & Coffee
1841 Columbia Road NW, Washington, DC (five other locations)