Mario and Leila Barbara really know their stuff. Gelato, that is. Their business was voted the No. 1 dessert destination in Pinellas County by Trip Advisor, No. 13 on business review app Yelp out of the top 100 places to eat in the Tampa Bay region and No. 1 on Yelp in Palm Harbor for gelato.
The Barbaras own Coolside Gelato Bar, in historic downtown Palm Harbor, on the corner of Nebraska Avenue and 11th Street. Mario’s brother, Joseph Barbara, owns and operates the Fireside Pizza Café next door. Their 80-year-old mother makes biscotti for Coolside and their father, also 80, cooks the meatballs for Fireside.
Mario and Leila were looking to leave corporate America and open their own business. Mario considered pastry, but never really embraced it.
While visiting family in Italy, they hit upon the idea of a gelato café. Mario had trouble eating ice cream due to the high butterfat content of the heavy cream. Some ice creams can increase up to 80percent in size because of the air introduced. Gelato is made from whole milk, has up to 50 percent fewer calories due to the lower butterfat and sugar content and has virtually no air for a much denser and healthier serving.
Mario wanted to make authentic gelato. He hired an expert from Genoa and all day long for two weeks, he learned how to make gelato. It now takes him four or five hours to make the gelatos every day. Some flavors have layers like lasagna. For one flavor, he takes liquefied chocolate, lets it harden and stretches it for four layers.
The Barbaras have lived in Dunedin since 1979 and have been married for 31 years.
“The kids are gone,” Leila said. It’s a lot of work, but a labor of love. We choose to do this.”
Added Mario: “It was a little scary going in, but it’s been nothing but a blessing. We are thriving.”
They always have traditional choices of lemon granita ice and gelatos of vanilla, chocolate, coffee, tiramisu and stracciatella — a European chocolate chip.
Coolside’s other flavors are changed and updated daily with seasonal flavors such as roasted pears and arugula ice; Pad Thai with peanut butter, coconut, sriracha and cilantro; pineapple mango cilantro ice, a cannoli gelato they named Obi Wan Cannoli; and one of their biggest sellers, wasabi almond chocolate gelato. They also make gelato cakes and only use natural ingredients, such as Viennese chocolate. You never know what to expect when you walk in.
They obtained a beer and wine license a couple years ago.
“We break the rules,” Leila said. “People can mix as many as flavors as they want in their cup. Not everyone wants dessert, so we created the Beerlato — a beer float with your choice of craft beers and choice of gelato. We try to have fun with what we do.”
Customers pick a beer, then a gelato and put them together. They also created the moscatini – moscato wine with a choice of Italian ice. Not just for kids, their gelato creations are like a candy store for adults.
But Coolside isn’t just about gelato. They serve European-style sweet and savory crepes, coffees such as espresso, latte and cappuccino, and gelato shake frappes.
They look forward to expanding their seating so they can introduce brunches soon. Outdoor seating is pet friendly. Coolside also does corporate events and weddings.
Closed on Mondays, Coolside Gelato is open 2-10 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday and 2-9 p.m. on Sunday.
Coolside Gelato Baris located at 1124 11th St., Palm Harbor. For information, call (727) 786-2665 or visit www.coolsidegelato.com and www.facebook.com/coolsidegelato.