Bar Ape is a little slice of Italy, packed into about 40 square feet. Built into a three-wheeled Piaggio Ape, the tiny, canvas-topped truck serves up handmade gelato in traditional Italian flavours – formed into chocolate-dipped bars for a novel, portable take on a classic.
With seven seasons of making gelato under his belt, it’s fair to say proprietor James Carnevale knows his way around the sweet stuff. After taking the ice cream production course at the University of Guelph, he did stints at Il Gelatiere Artigianale and Simply Italian Gelato, honing his skills and getting a feel for what he liked making – and what gelato lovers were hungry for.
“I made bars in the Yorkville location for the last three years, and then last year, we were doing a lot more bars for smaller restaurants, catered events,” he says. “I knew it was something I was always wanted to do.”
Though they just hit the road in July, Carnevale’s truck has been in the works for a long time; he acquired the Ape (a commonly-spotted vehicle in Italy, as well as around other parts of Europe and Asia – say it “ah-pay”) four years ago. But a lack of clear direction from the city on how to properly classify an ice cream truck with a flat bed, a motorcycle’s chassis, and a miniscule engine meant endless red tape.
Carnevale persisted, calling officials over and over again, redrawing plans, and working on the truck in minus-30 weather throughout the winter. (That chill is now a distant memory; when the truck made its maiden voyage to Pedestrian Sunday in Kensington Market at the end of July, he says, “it must have been 45 degrees in here.”)
Fortunately, the gelato flavours came together with a little more ease. Freezer space is understandably limited, so Carnevale keeps the lineup to a few heavy hitters. “There needed to be that touch of classic Italian, mixed with what people like here, mixed with something a little bit different.”
The core menu of five flavours gives top billing to gelateria favourites like pistachio, which features tons of crushed nuts in the gelato and the shell, and hazelnut chocolate, which has nocciola gelato (with chocolate pieces) on the inside and chocolate dip (with hazelnuts) on the outside.
For the chocoholics, Carnevale keeps it simple with a chocolate gelato bar featuring pieces on the inside and a chocolate shell on the outside. He’s not big on outlandish flavour combos; the craziest he gets is his chocolate-coconut-almond bar, a creation based on white Ferrero Rocher chocolates (aka the Raffaello). The gluten-, nut- and dairy-free option is currently a strawberry gelato with a dark chocolate shell; Carnavale says he might switch it to banana and chocolate.
There’s also a wild-card flavour that changes depending on what’s in season (and what Carnevale is into making). On the day I visit, it’s lemon gelato with a lemon-white chocolate dip; he rattles off a list of future flavours, including coffee, passion fruit, mango, melon, peach, and a play on a Creamsicle – vanilla gelato with orange inside and a white chocolate orange dip.
With a packed summer schedule, it’ll be easy to hunt down Carnavale to test out all those limited-run bars. “My plans are to sell as much ice cream as I can,” he says. “The reason we designed the truck is to float. As not as I’m making ice cream bars, I’m floating and selling ice cream in the truck.”
Luckily, since ice cream trucks can park pretty much anywhere, Carnevale can go where the people need him. Ossington, David Pecaut Square, and Queen West are favourite haunts, but he’s always updating followers on his whereabouts via Twitter and Instagram – and he’s happy to take requests.
“People say ‘Hey, on Tuesday, why don’t you come here?’ Why not? I’m open to where people want me to be.”