By Jay Reed
Dolce. It’s the Italian word for “sweet.” And what’s the sweetest thing ever to come out of Italy? If the answer that comes to your mind is, “my grandmother,” I’m not here to argue. I don’t know her, but I’m sure she’s delightful. But is she creamy, too? And really cold? Because I’m talking about something else: the Italian word for “frozen,” which would be “gelato.” Dolce also happens to be the name of Starkville’s newest place to get something sweet, frozen and creamy.
In what is becoming a trend in Starkville, as well as other local business corridors across the state, a historic building was repurposed and renovated on Main Street. It’s owned by the Masonic Lodge, but most people in the area know it as the old Rex Theatre, which operated for decades beginning in the early 1930s and was Starkville’s first air-conditioned building. Most of the current space is occupied by the Glo company, which approached local business owners Robbie and Bonnie Coblentz about putting a small business in the front corner, where the Rex box office used to be. With multiple ties to the culinary community and the broadcast media world, they considered a variety of possibilities but the dimensions of the space—big enough to serve and seat, but not quite big enough for a kitchen—narrowed their options. After lots of thought, brainstorming and consultations they concluded that a gelato shop with a movie theme would fit the playbill nicely.
The next step was to find a source for the frozen sweetness, and a series of random events led both Robbie and Bonnie to Hugh Balthrop and his company, Sweet Magnolia Gelato. The idea of serving a Mississippi-based small batch product appealed to them, and after taste-testing a few of Sweet Magnolia’s offerings, it was an easy decision.
The current menu at Dolce is simple but growing. They keep about a dozen different flavors in the freezer all the time, served by the scoop. A few classics and local favorites are stalwarts, such as Fior de Latte (a traditional sweet cream), chocolate, honey bourbon, banana pudding, espresso chip and peanut butter cup. The rest of the spots rotate among dozens of Sweet Magnolia options like blueberry cheesecake, pistachio, red velvet cake, or Stracciatella (vanilla with slivers of dark chocolate). Plus, they try to keep a couple of flavors of sorbet such as lemon, strawberry, pineapple or raspberry. Toppings are simple, too: dark chocolate shavings, mini chocolate chips, graham cracker crumbs, whipped topping, chocolate and caramel sauces and brown butter bits (an exclusive showing).
They can take any flavor in the freezer and make a classic milkshake—for sorbets, they add Sprite or lemonade. The historic location of the shop also inspired a list of Movie Milkshakes such as The Maltese Falcon (chocolate with malt), My Fair Berry (strawberry with mini chocolate chips), Viva Stark Vegas (banana pudding and peanut butter chip, thank you very much), and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (vanilla with a “bang” of espresso). They also offer an affogato, which is a scoop of gelato “drowned” (another Italian language lesson) in a shot of espresso.
When certain varieties come along, they essentially beg to be incorporated into weekend specials, layering on the built-in flavor profile. For instance, the lemon buttermilk gelato served with whipped topping and graham cracker crumbs called to mind Robbie’s favorite lemon icebox pie. Ms. Mary’s pound cake gelato topped with sliced fresh strawberries and whipped topping served as a frozen version of strawberry shortcake. A gelato panini recipe—a scoop encased in a brioche bun, heated in a specialized press—is under development. And if you can’t get enough in the shop, pints are available to take home.
For those into the details, the difference between gelato and ice cream is essentially three-fold. Gelato has less butterfat, less air and is generally served at a slightly warmer temperature. This trio of distinctions leads to a velvety texture, a flavorful bite yet doesn’t necessarily melt faster. Sorbets are dairy-free (usually just fruit and sugar) while classic sherbet recipes have milk or cream.
Dolce has both indoor and outdoor seating and lots of windows, perfect for watching the comings and goings on Starkville’s Main Street while enjoying a scoop, shake, or special treat. Movie posters from the Rex Theatre era line the walls, and a display of vintage movie cameras from Robbie’s personal collection fills a corner. A classic dessert in a classic building. Sweet.
Dolce Gelato Treats is located at 101 West Main Street in Starkville. Closed Sunday and Monday, this shop is open the rest of the week from 2 pm to 9 pm, or until 10 pm on Friday and Saturday.