Gelato Artistry Sets the Summer Scene at Bar Ape

Dessert innovation and ephemeral moments on offer at St. Clair West hotspot

August 11, 2017

Bar Ape's walk-up window at 283 Rushton Road

We first got wind of Bar Ape – pronounced Ah-pay and named after the iconic Italian autorickshaw – thanks to their rigorous ingredient sourcing. Something about one specific extract oil, flown in from Italy to complete one specific recipe, had us positively intrigued by the detail-oriented artisans behind this kind of rumoured precision. Nestled into a humble but well-traversed window steps off the burgeoning St. Clair West strip, midtown’s craft gelato dynamo proved just as particular and prescient as we’d hoped.

A stone’s throw from Via Italia, the Rushton Road HQ of Bar Ape is easily at home amidst the old stomping grounds of its proprietors. James Carnevale and Nick Genova both grew up in the area and it’s their shared Italian heritage, as much as their lifelong friendship, that makes them an effective gelato-slinging duo. Indeed, bringing in just the right orange oil for a Creamsicle Bar, the perfect pistachios, carefully-selected nut butters or dairy-free chocolate dips to complete their respective recipes, is key to the process of presenting something unique. Even if some gelato purists have been slow to catch on.

Grape Soft Serve, Gooseberry Bar, Strawberry Basil Sundae

“What we do is just gelato in different forms. It’s not that crazy,” explains Carnevale from the depths of the cozy production space that backs Bar Ape’s walk-up service window. “There’s three things on our menu: soft serve, gelato bars and sundaes. Pretty straightforward, right?” As the culinary mastermind behind the flourishing project, Carnevale is driven by a love for fresh, local produce, one-off flavour combinations with blink-and-you-missed-it availability, and the confidence to stay his course while trend-dependent pretenders come and go.

“Anyone can buy a bag of soft serve mix and put it in the machine, like the ice cream truck guy does. But it will never be the same as this soft serve,” Carnevale promises of his ever rotating small batch supply – a twist of Ontario Yellow Plum and Chamomile for the moment. The nearby Dutch Dreams may claim regional dominance in perpetuity, certainly as a destination for classic overloaded cones, but local residents are discovering something modern and meaningful with each enticing visit to Bar Ape.

Peach Cinnamon Bar

Keeping this growing fanbase abreast of all the latest developments is Bar Ape’s beautifully-curated Instagram account, run by Genova as a natural extension of his pedigree in video editing and directing. Part of the fun of the overall experience is to follow the vibrant posts announcing new flavours of soft serve, sundae syrups and take-home pints. Instagram also provides a handy living archive of the company’s history, which unfolds as much to the delight of its partners as their patrons.

“I’m just as excited for Sour Cherry as anyone,” confesses Genova of an exemplary recent offering that – paired with savoury Brown Butter– fittingly illustrates Carnevale’s mastery of bold flavour experimentations. “I can’t wait for Sour Plum because I maybe had two servings of it last year and I miss it, the same way anybody else would. I can relate exactly to the customers.”

Mobile beginnings on the Queen West strip

It’s his certainty in the product that inspired Genova to migrate industries in the first place, when Carnevale needed a trustworthy colleague to take his then-mobile upstart to the next level. Childhood pals don’t always work well together, but an unwavering belief in the ingenuity of Carnevale’s work proved to be prophetic, evidenced by the need to be deliberate in maintaining a slow and steady pace as the brand grows.

“Right now, keeping things small is still to our advantage,” explains Genova while his partner whips up a fresh batch of bars. “The next move would have to be somewhat big, like maybe opening another location. But we’re not quite there yet.” This measured approach to commercial advancement underscores the artistic, community-building ethos driving the two entrepreneurs. The opportunity to supply bars to the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts (count on a java bean-flecked Coffee bar to power you through the second half of that opera) was a welcome avenue to expansion, but there’s no rush to do too much too fast.

James Carnevale pokes his head out of the original Bar Ape on a rainy day

“My original crazy idea was to actually have a boat in Muskoka, like the truck, where I could sell ice cream on the water,” says Carnevale through a mischievous smile. “You could rent it to your cottage, if you’re having a party. I dock and bring ice cream.” It’s a fun idea and, in light of Toronto creamery Sweet Jesus’ foray into the Port Carling market, not far-fetched. But for now, Bar Ape is smartly focused on supplying authentic summer moments to walk-up guests, new and old.

Bar Ape sets sail

Though some may bristle in discovering a highly touted flavour has already run its course (don’t go asking for the aforementioned Plum and Chamomile soft serve options, they’re already gone), the bulk of Bar Ape’s visitors find delight and adventure in the constant rotation of Carnevale’s creations. Like so many things in life, it’s purity of intent and the discipline to stay true to a sound goal, that fosters transcendence through affection and integrity.