Hallie Meyer is an extreme ice cream enthusiast, whose love for triple-scoop cones and perfectly prepared sundaes is rivaled only by her passion for panna, the Italian-style whipped cream that is much less common here. She also happens to be the daughter of restaurateur Danny Meyer, and seems to have inherited her dad’s renowned obsession with service.
Put it all together and you have Caffé Panna, Hallie’s superb new ice cream parlor/panna palace/warm and welcoming neighborhood cafe, which is opening today in Gramercy.
There’s a lot to get excited about here. The ice cream itself, which Meyer churns out fresh every day, is remarkable, a hybrid of sorts that features the intense, “true” flavors of the best Italian gelato in an airier, more American-style frozen dessert. Meyer is also a fan of tart, fruity swirls and sweet, crunchy mix-ins (most of these she makes in-house), which give her scoops and sundaes a punch of flavor and extra textural dimension familiar to anyone who’s eaten ice cream in this country over the past fifty years. Her just-baked cones are terrific as well.
Each day Caffé Panna will be scooping ten different flavors: five permanent classics (like Salted Chocolate, Vanilla, and a sweet cream, graham crunch, and strawberry swirl number called Red Flag); and five ever-changing, often quite elaborate specials, such as Stracciatella di Pistacchio, Olive Oil Apricot, and Hungry Ranger, which involves chocolate chunks, salted caramel, and graham brittle. Drizzles can be added at any time, or you can really live it up and get the Chef’s Choice Sundae of the day.
And then there’s the homemade panna, which Meyer serves both regular and flavored, and is available as a free topping on literally anything you order, including a simple cup of coffee or shot of espresso. The latter come via Joe, and are also used in Caffé Panna’s impressively deep menu of affogatos, which range from the simple (espresso with vanilla ice cream and panna) to the borderline insane, like the stunner I had two nights in a row at previews earlier this week made from Cinnamon Sour Cherry ice cream, praline pecans, salted caramel drizzle, and coffee panna.
The space is bright, airy and inviting, with ample seating at tables in the center or on stools at the bold terrazzo counters that front the coffee bar and line the windows looking out onto the corner of Irving Place and 19th Street. Two separate ordering stations—one for ice cream only, the other for coffee and ice cream—help with the traffic flow, and Meyer has a large staff on hand, well-drilled in the “put the customer first” philosophy that made her father famous, who are eager to make your visit here as happy and relaxed as a trip to get ice cream should be.
Caffé Panna is located at 77 Irving Place, at the corner of East 19th Street, and is open now from 11:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., with expanded hours, until 11:00 p.m., starting Sunday. Coming soon: Italian pastries in the morning and cocktails, wine, and beer at night. (caffepanna.com)