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An earthshaking Italian experience at Gran Caffe L'Aquila

In Rittenhouse, two survivors re-create their hometown magic with gelato, coffee and much more.

Spiked gelato (yes, you get carded), shakeratos, Nutella frappes, four different coffee blends, espressos, spiked espressos, several pastry cases, a charcuterie case, a wine bar, a cocktail bar, a coffee bar, a coffee roastery, a romantic table for two on a balcony, a dining room set up to look like a handsome library.

Oh, and pancetta gelato.

There is a lot going on at the new Gran Caffe L'Aquila at 1716 Chestnut St., next to the Sephora store and down the block from the soon-to-open Forever 21 and Nordstrom Rack in Rittenhouse.

It's a multifaceted, urbane Italian experience previously unseen here. Closest comparison on the East Coast would be the Sant Ambroeus location on Madison Avenue in New York's Upper East Side.

Its first floor opens at 7 a.m. daily with coffee and pastries. There's also plenty of panini and pastries. The bar - no seats; it's the Italian style - is stocked with 20 wines by the glass (one from every region of Italy). The gelato case - and it's all made in-house - includes alcohol-infused varieties that run from 5 to 10 percent alcohol. There's also savory gelato; a cold, milk-based dollop of pancetta-infused gelato, for example, informs the carbonara with a salty richness.

The first floor also serves a small-plate menu that's easy on the budget.

The cafe's specialties are house-made gelato and house-roasted coffee, and two of the chef-owners are regarded as two of Italy's best: Stefano Biasini won the World Cup of Gelato and Michele Morelli was awarded the highest rating for torrefaction from Gambero Rosso (basically, the Italian version of Zagat). Both represented Italy at the G8 Summit just after the quake.

Besides Morelli's roaster and Biasini's gelato shop, visible to patrons, the second floor has a restaurant serving a rotation of menus from all 20 regions of Italy (most mains are $18 to $20) and a wine bar.

It's safe to say that the earthquake that destroyed much of L'Aquila, Italy, in April 2009 has led to this stunningly gorgeous restaurant and Italian cultural project.

I've written previously that restaurateur Riccardo Longo, whose family's holdings include Toscana 52 in Bensalem, was touring Abruzzo for his forthcoming book on regional cuisine and wine when he struck up a friendship with Biasini and Morelli, owners of the landmark Gran Caffe L'Aquila. The cafe was unhabitable, and probably will be for years. The owners opened a temporary version of Gran Caffe L'Aquila on the outskirts of town while waiting for the original to be rebuilt

Longo invited Biasini and Morelli to visit Philadelphia. One thing led to another, and they signed a deal last year to redo the caffe here.

Much of the decor were constructed in Italy, transported here, and assembled.

Coming soon will be an Italian cultural school with language, cultural, gastronomic classes, and wine tastings.