Frozen Roots
Some say that it is a matter of taste, but given more recent trends, I think I wonâ€TMt upset too many if I write this as a matter of fact: Gelato is better than ice cream. It just is.

There are several reasons for the above–admittedly provocative–statement, but to bolster the point, Iâ€TMll mention only one: Gelaterias churn their product at a slower rate, which brings less air–or “overrun”–into the mix. Ice creameries churn quickly, and some low-end brands of ice cream can be composed of up to 90% air. When you buy cheap ice cream, youâ€TMre essentially buying air (and it tastes about as good). Gelato, on the other hand, is denser than ice cream thanks to the greater care taken in the process. And thatâ€TMs just one reason.

Of course, I enjoy a good ice cream cone on a hot day. Iâ€TMve even been known to dig into the moose tracks every now and then. And obviously, soft serve is a staple of the American summer diet (and it should be, beach bodies be damned). But even compared to soft serve, gelato comes out ahead, if only by a little.

Gelato, like so many touchstones of American foodery, is older than these United States. If youâ€TMre ever asked what Cicero, Michelangelo and Luciano Pavarotti have in common, the answer is that they all almost certainly enjoyed gelato at some point in their lives. Granted, it wasnâ€TMt as developed in ancient Rome as it was by the time of the Middle Ages, but itâ€TMs all part of the same tradition.

Thankfully, gelato has worked its way onto the American menu. In fact, itâ€TMs been around in the United States long enough for it to take on an American quality, and even distinctive regional and state flare. For a good example, look at Tennesseeâ€TMs own Southern Sundaes in Tullahoma.

Founded in August 2013 by Cassy Grow and her family, Southern Sundaes is becoming a staple of Tullahoma life. Guests can enjoy one of 22 gelato flavors, but they can also order savory things such as Cassyâ€TMs chicken salad (even in a waffle cone), a BLT or a pimento and cheese. So Southern Sundaes is more than just gelato, itâ€TMs true, but handcrafted gelato is their specialty.

Cassy went to school for nutrition and restaurant management in the early 1980s and had some success in Alabama as a restaurateur. But after marrying and having four kids, she decided to put the restaurant business on hold in favor of spending more time with her family. During her restaurateuring hiatus, she became a certified yoga and fitness instructor, and she only catered occasionally, when someone asked her specifically.

But now her kids are grown, and her interest in food has piqued again.

The building in which the shop is located—the old Coca-Cola Bottling Company building—houses an eclectic bunch. Southern Sundaes is right at home in the old main bottling room, surrounded by local artists, hairdressers, a childrenâ€TMs clothing store, photographers, a hypnotherapist, a massage therapist and even a radio station. One could get almost everything she needs from this building, and almost never have to leave. Itâ€TMs a veritable town square.

When the space in the old bottling factory became available, Cassy was interested but didnâ€TMt have the time to begin a full-time restaurant. Thanks to some turns, however, she was eventually able to rent the space.

One of the chain ice cream shops in Tullahoma had closed, and so all that remained was frozen yogurt. Cassy thought that a new shop would be a fun addition to the landscape, but didnâ€TMt know exactly where to begin. In fact, she was going to serve regular ice cream.

“I was originally going to just have ice cream shipped here,” Cassy said. “But the more I read about it, the more I became interested in gelato.”

After learning more about gelato and realizing some of the benefits of gelato over and against other frozen desserts, Cassy actually attended training courses at Advanced Gourmet in Greensboro, N.C. Advanced Gourmet has an exclusive import on Italian gelato equipment and also specializes in hands-on training for people who want to make gelato.

Cassy grew to love the process of making gelato, and she appreciates the freedom it affords (as we all know, there are some “different” gelato flavors out there). But one of the things she appreciates most about it is gelato-makingâ€TMs tradition of using fresh, local ingredients wherever possible.

Local sourcing and creativity were not new commitments for Cassy. Theyâ€TMve stuck with her for a lifetime. She started cooking at the age of five, inspired by her mother and grandmother. Their family had a small garden and ate from it regularly.

“From a very young age, I was exposed to preparing food from fresh ingredients and also by being exposed to farmers and farming families…I developed an appreciation for the food that was produced by local farmers,” Cassy said. “Itâ€TMs just better.”

So today, that appreciation fleshes itself out in the vendors that Cassy uses for her ingredients. In particular, she uses Casey Family Farms for her dairy supply and Farmer Brown of McMinnville for her savory, lunchtime goods. She also uses local brands for flavor.

Itâ€TMs an interesting thing to write about local sourcing, farming, vegetables and family (and even world) history when focusing on a frozen dessert. But to Cassy and Southern Sundaes, gelato isnâ€TMt just a dessert. Itâ€TMs a lifestyle. Itâ€TMs a lifestyle that incorporates fresh fruit and sweets (and, yes, even greens), one that pays homage to the great Italian tradition of gelato-making. Itâ€TMs a lifestyle that chooses local food and serves local people. Thatâ€TMs what sets Southern Sundaes apart and keeps it from being called, merely, “Sundaes.”

It may not be all that old, but it has roots.

Southern Sundaes

401 Wilson Ave.