This Hole-in-the-Wall Life

I've seen some bad restaurant locations over the years—behind decrepit hotels, in the middle of gang-infested neighborhoods, relegated to the stock room of a Guatemalan grocer—but Heaven on Spoon is one of the worst yet. It's in Santa Ana's Mainplace Mall, a middling shopping plaza largely ignored by county shoppers speeding toward the glamour of South Coast Plaza or the Apple Store at the Brea Mall. Heaven on Spoon opened this summer next to a JC Penney—a seemingly prime spot to snag shoppers . . . except that JC Penney won't open until 2007. And, as the sun sinks into the afternoon, bright rays shine directly upon the tiny stand's gelato counter. If you stand around too long, your treat melts quickly.

“Are you concerned that your gelato will melt?” Heaven on Spoon's kindly owner asked me recently, after I warily eyed the streams of gelato running down my cone. He promptly offered another scoop.

None of this will ultimately matter, however, once you scoop (or drink) up Heaven on Spoon's gelato. The shop offers the standard flavors of all great gelaterias—raspberry, blood orange, mango and other tangy fruits with flavors so fresh you can actually feel strands of fruit lurking within each gelato scoop. There are some unorthodox flavors as well: green tea tastes like China; the dulce de leche, a caramel-like dessert made from goat's milk, is perfect for Santa Ana's Latino super-majority; cheesecake is as thick as the real deal; a gorgeous saffron pistachio flavor, bold and fragrant, hints at the owner's Persian heritage. You can order the gelato in a pint, in small cups or in massive sugar cones baked with small M N M's in the shell.

My favorite flavor out of the 20 or so is pumpkin. Iced treats tend to work best when they're tart, rarely when they're squashes. But the pumpkin gelato at Heaven on Spoon is exquisite, full of the vegetable's hearty sweetness—you can eat only so much before you need to catch your breath, like eating the best pumpkin pies.

Heaven on Spoon also dabbles in the bakery business, with cakes of various frostings and flours for all festive occasions. The panini are really glorified compressed hoagies—no sun-dried tomatoes, pesto or anything; the primary flavors are ham, mustard and regular tomatoes—but will do the job. Combine the panini hoagie with a gelato, and get out of the sun.

HEAVEN ON SPOON, 2800 N. MAIN ST., STE. 2086, SANTA ANA, (714) 558-6131.

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