OLD SAYBROOK — A little farther down Main Street, away from the town’s shopping hubbub, is an Italian cafe where one can find refreshment and respite, including homemade gelato and sorbet, pastries baked in-house, coffee, marble-topped tables, an outdoor seating area and wifi.
Housed in the historic James Pharmacy at 323 Main St., Caffé Marche (pronounced “Márk-eh”) is named for the region of Italy located east of Tuscany along the Adriatic Sea, where co-owner Paul Angelini is from.
“The whole philosophy here is to bring in someone as if they were going to go to the market region of Italy,” he said. “All ingredients are very local, farmer’s cow milk and heavy cream, mozzarella, Liuzzi Cheese from North Haven. Our smoothies are fresh and organic.”
Angelini, runs the cafe, while his wife, Eileen Sotille, runs the B&B upstairs. The two opened the business on July 1, 2017 and have worked to restore the 1790 building, which at one time was a working pharmacy and soda counter. From 1917 to 1967, it was operated by Anna Louise James, the first African-American female pharmacist in Connecticut.
Standing behind a tall brass espresso machine, Angelini explained the intricacies of making the perfect espresso.
“You have to look at how it comes out of the machine,” he said, pointing to the spout from which espresso was flowing into a tiny cup. “It should look like ‘la coda del topo,’ the tail of a mouse, because it should bend backwards a little from the spout.”
“If you don’t make a good espresso, you can’t make a good cappuccino, no way, no matter what you do to the milk, it’s just not going to be hot with it,” he said, “When I serve this, I heat up the cup because if you pour hot coffee in a cold cup, what happens, it gets cold, and I don’t put cold milk in a hot coffee, I heat the milk first.”
The coffee is from Deep River Roasters, roasted in 6-pound batches and the shop also serves teas from Simpson & Vail in Brookfield.
Angellini made a caffè del nonno, “grandfather’s coffee,” containing coffee, coffee gelato, milk, and another choice of gelato (we chose chocolate). The drink was served in a small dessert glass and topped with whipped cream and a sour cherry.
Considered a summer drink in Italy, the caffè del nonno was light and refreshing, like a milkshake but less filling, and eaten with a long spoon until it was time to sip what remained in the bottom of the glass.
Angellini also offered samples of his gelato, made the day before.
“I like to experiment with flavors. I kind of change it around a lot and I try to do 10 flavors and then maybe two I keep the same,” he said. “The other day I made maple with cinnamon because I make maple syrup — it’s more of a summer thing. I do cookie dough and I made peanut butter and jelly the other day with amaretto which is a sour cherry.”
We tried a classic stracciatella, a simple milky fior di latte with chocolate, and a more American toasted marshmallow. Somewhat counterintuitively, it’s actually the relatively modest amount of butterfat, combined less air beaten into mixture as it’s chilled, that gives gelato a truer and brighter flavor than typical American ice cream, more milky than creamy, exceptionally smooth, at its best less filling than refreshing.
We were not disappointed. The gelato was very good. The toasted marshmallow won over our purist scepticism.
Angelini compared the experience to driving an Italian luxury sports car.
“When I compare it to cars, gelato is like a Ferrari, it has much more boldness to it, much more flavor to it,” he said.