The little brown-eyed girl moves slowly, palms flat against the sleek curved glass of the display case, taking every gelato flavor in. At first I think she’s going for the Bubble Gum variety, dotted as it is with gobstopper-sized gumballs, or maybe the Birthday Cake flavor with its jazzy sprinkle of colored jimmies.
“Sea Salt Caramel, please,” she says confidently.
Turns out this is a longtime customer, coming with her mom for scoops of her favorite flavor to this spot, where owners Kurt and Ed Bruksch formerly ran a Frost Gelato franchise for eight years. Now rebranded, redesigned, and relaunched as Sweet Home Gelato, the gleaming treat shop has opened with a menu expanded to include baked goods, binge-worthy coffee drinks, shakes, and of course, house-made gelatos.
There is Strawberries & Cream, Chocolate-Covered Cherry, and Espresso Chip. Or you could choose Coconut, Butterfinger, Hazelnut, Roasted Almond, or Pistachio. In all, there are 24 gelato flavors, and four sorbets offered every day. On my visit, I managed tasting spoons of all of them, which a bemused server cheerfully offered up on a plate, before I decided on a full scoop of the coconut.
I expected the creamy, flavorful richness, but what struck me was the freshness.The gelato base, made with whole milk and the Bruksch’s proprietary recipe, developed with the Italian master gelatier they work with, has an unexpected complexity of flavor, brightly punctuated with the chunks of fresh fruit, nuts, or chocolate depending on variety.
“Yes,” Ed Bruksch confirmed later. “Everything here is made fresh and served the same day it’s made. We’ve gotten very good in eight years of experience with understanding and anticipating the demand.”
Building on that experience, the Bruksch’s have perfected their gelato technique, always featuring guest favorites, but still bringing new flavors to the fore.Top sellers include Sea Salt Caramel and Dark Chocolate, but the more experimental flavors such as Lotus Cookie—featuring pieces of gingery Lotus cookies in the mix, are a nice offering for customers looking for something different. There are also Italian classics such as the Stracciatella, (Italian chocolate chip) and the Gianduja (chocolate with hazelnuts and crunchy wafer bits).
Five gelato chefs, split between the Highland Park location and another unit the Bruksch’s opened in Naperville in mid-February, make the gelatos— choosing from a roster of 70 flavors. They make the sorbets from a selection of 20 varieties.
Baked goodies, which include a rainbow assortment of macarons, plus muffins, cookies, biscotti, scones, and a mini Bundt cake called a “bundtkin” supplied by local baker Holcomb Hollow—are all gluten and dairy free. Of these, the triple-berry cobbler swirl was my top choice.
But beyond the gelato and sorbet, the unique coffee drinks (added to give guests more reason to come in throughout the cooler weather months) were my favorites. The gelatte is, you guessed it: A latte made with the gelato of your choice, melted with hot espresso and blended with steamed milk. And the affogatto? An Italian coffee float, made with scoops of gelato and a float of espresso on top.
Design for the space, by Des Plaines-based architect Peter Theodore, is boutique-modern in cool aqua and white, offset by a stretch of black wall, and gleaming silver-and-glass display cases that look like they’d fit in on the Avengers’ Benatar spaceship. The textured white floral wall facing the display case at the front is an especially nice touch.
“One of the essential reasons for our desire to rebrand as independent operators was that we wanted to create a more inviting environment,” says Bruksch. “There’s a great deal of seasonality to operating a gelato business in Chicago. People love ice cream and gelato and enjoy it year ‘round at home, but we wanted to shape a store that would give them a reason to come here for the coffee, gelato and unique treats they couldn’t get at home.”
Sweet Home Gelato is located at 617 Central Avenue in Highland Park, 847-432-2233, sweethomegelato.com.