When Justine MacNeil and Ed Crochet were planning Fiore, the couple’s all-day Italian concept in Queen Village, there was a moment when they debated splurging on a big gelato machine.
“I feel like I’m going to need it,” said MacNeil, the former pastry chef at New York’s Del Posto.
She was prescient. Because after a successful first year, only to watch their dining room closed by the coronavirus, MacNeil’s gelato skills essentially saved their business. She began cranking out 400-plus pints of gelati each week to go in the spring, with changing flavors ranging from salted caramel to fresh mint with chocolate and (my favorite) Rocky Road.
It was just the first of several initiatives they launched to survive without the benefit of their 80-plus indoor seats. Pizza Saturdays. Weekend pastries (pumpkin latte-stuffed bomboloni? Yes!) Cocktails to go. Sunday supper kits.
“The mental stress is constantly gnawing: How are you going to get to next week?” says Crochet.
Their embrace of outdoor dining, however, with 40 seats wrapping their parkside building along Front Street, has been a blessing.
It’s such a pleasure to taste Crochet’s superbly seasonal pastas again, from ravioli stuffed with shaved Bartlett pears and mascarpone, to airy gnocchi tanged with Pianello tomatoes, and fettuccine in charred scallion sauce with smoky bacon. Savory fritters are studded with end-of-season corn and chilies. Pristine swordfish, marinated in fennel and yogurt, is stellar beside Lancaster pole beans splashed with punchy colatura.
Tents and heaters will extend Fiore’s al fresco season, as they remain reluctant to begin indoor dining. But the cold weather will not deter MacNeil’s gelato genius.
I devoured a pint of her maple-brown butter flavor recently and can attest: It is still the magic we need to keep smiling.