While it may not be an ancient amphitheater, a leaning tower or some grand cathedral in a city square, gelato remains an essential experience of traveling to Italy. Gelato shops and carts litter the streets of every major city, every village. After returning stateside, friends who have already traveled to Italy excitedly ask, 'Did you try the gelato?'

Yes, it is that good. So good in fact that JoAneen Stamegna, co-owner of the Cortona Gelatoria in Park City, opened a business just to capture that experience. When she first went to Italy, she was prepared to forgo the staple sweet treat. Stamegna is not an ice cream fan, a fact she readily admits, but in her opinion, gelato is no ice cream.

"When I saw these gelato signs everywhere, I was like, 'What's the big deal? It's just ice cream," she said. "I finally decided to try it because everywhere we went there were people eating this.

"Once I had it, that was it. I had it everyday, twice a day for the rest of the trip."

Rich and creamy, gelato seems like a decadent dessert. But on average, gelato has half the calories of regular ice cream.

Her husband and partner David Stamegna fell in love with gelato since first bite. He was ready to dive into the business despite never working in the restaurant industry before, and now the two run the Park City business together. When he first tried gelato, he was biking through the country. Once he had discovered it though, it became a major part of his diet.

"Gelato. I love it because of the intensity of the flavor," he said. "I lived on gelato, proscuitto and vino."

Cortona Gelatoria in Kimball Junction offers more than just gelato, which the couple makes by hand, importing several ingredients such as Pistachio paste from Italy just to bring an air of authenticity to the product. JoAneen prepares nearly everything from hand, from the meatballs in the Roma Panini to the Tuscan Chili.

With its warm Tuscan feel and wall murals, Stamegna said she wanted to capture the moments from her honeymoon, her first time traveling to Italy, her first time trying gelato, when she and her then-newly-wed husband stopped in cafes to enjoy dessert with a glass of wine at bar tops.

"This is causal, comfortable," Stamegna said, "a place where you can come in a grab a cannoli. It's a place to enjoy food, a place with this authentic Italian atmosphere."

The restaurant also started a dinner special, offering traditional meals made from scratch every other Saturday using a set menu Stamenga creates in advance. The event became so popular, her family recipes are such a hit, that she soon started having to turn people away.

Whether it is classic basil pesto or pasta made from scratch, Stamenga puts in the time, preparing every order as it comes in. A vodka-infused red sauce? Each order is prepared by table. Freshly made cannoli? It is whipped and piped into its casing moments before diners take the first bite. Like her Italian grandmother, she wanted to recreate a home cooked meal. Making a reservation for the night is like accepting an invitation.

"When you're in Italy and you're authentic Italian, making dinner is an all-day production," she said. "... huge tables with grandmothers and mothers making handmade pasta, and it takes all day. It's tradition, a family menu, and that's what we're trying to create."

Cortona Gelataria

  • 1612 Ute Blvd., Suite 112

  • 435-608-1373

  • www.cortonaparkcity.com

  • cortonapc@yahoo.com

    Hours: Tuesday thru Friday: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., Saturday: 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m., Sunday: 11:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Beer and wine available.