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Published: Thursday, 5/10/2007

Restaurant review: Diaggio s Gelato ***

"Life's too short; eat dessert first" the saying goes.

That advice is certainly applicable at Diaggio's Gelato, a little storefront restaurant in the shopping plaza anchored by Kohls on Holland-Sylvania Road near Airport Highway.

Diaggio's is the kind of restaurant in which you walk up to the counter to order, then the staff brings your food to the table. The trouble is, right next to the counter, a display case features 24 flavors of gelato, each one begging to be tasted.

According to the Food Lovers Companion by Sharon Tyler Herbst, gelato is the Italian word for ice cream. "Gelato doesn't contain as much air as its American counterpart and therefore has a denser texture."

Think premium ice cream, really, really good premium ice cream in flavors such as cotton candy, pistachio, amaretto, coffee, mandoria, (caramelized hazelnuts and almonds), and cake batter. There's also vanilla and chocolate, which are just about the only regulars on the menu. A server said that Diaggio's can make about 200 flavors, so what's in the case on any given day may be a surprise.

The menu says the cream flavors have less than 7 percent fat, and the fruit flavors less than 2 percent.

Gelato is served in cups ($2.95 to $3.99) and waffle cones ($3.45 to $4.99), and orders in the small and regular sizes can be split between two flavors. The large size can be split into three flavors.

If you can tear your eyes away from the gelato case, there are chocolate-dipped cannoli (pas-try shells filled with sweetened whipped ricotta cheese) in another case ($2.99), and they're darn good, too.

Diaggio's isn't ALL about dessert. It also serves pizza, sandwiches, and salads. In fact, the Diaggio special pizza, with pepperoni, onions, green peppers, mushrooms, and black olives ($8.25 for a 10-inch pie) ranks close to the best I've ever had. It has a thin crust with plenty of toppings, but the kitchen gets the proportions of sauce and cheese just right, so it's not soggy.

On the special board one day was a chicken Alfredo pizza (also $8.25 for a 10-incher), but I was less enamored with it. The white (sauce) and tan (chicken) pizza didn't appeal to my eyes or my tastebuds. I guess I'm too much of a traditionalist.

The sandwiches fared better. On several visits, my companions and I tried a Genoa panini (ham, salami, provolone, lettuce, and tomato on a rustic bread); a calzone, which is sort of like a pizza pasty, with the crust folded and baked around the toppings; and a hot summer wrap (a special of the day), which featured chicken, onions, mushrooms, zucchini, red pepper, squash, and a raspberry dressing. Each was $6.50, each was a hot sandwich, and all were tasty. The wrap, which dripped dressing, was a bit messy. Sandwiches are served with a choice of chips, cole slaw, or an apple.

A fourth sandwich, a chicken salad panini, was bland and lacked texture, and although half went home with me, it never held enough appeal for a second meal.

A selection of salads ($2.99 to $6.50) completes the food portion of the menu. Beverages range from pop to hot chocolate to various coffee drinks.

Diaggio's is by no means fancy. Meals are served on a melamine sort of plate, but pop and coffee cups double as carry-out containers. Aesthetically, my cappuccino (strong, but not bitter) would have been more pleasing in a china mug instead of a foam cup, but I guess that's one way to keep costs down.

The restaurant is decorated whimsically, with tile floors, a big fountain, and the walls covered with hand-painted murals of Italian shops and a Venetian canal.

It's a good place for sandwiches and pizza, and it's a great place for gelato.

Contact Bill of Fare at: fare@theblade.com.

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