Bill Prahl first served as a chef for Jacksonville's McCulley House before opening the famed Gogi's dinner house which he and his wife Joyce ran with distinction for nine years.

Bill Prahl first served as a chef for Jacksonville's McCulley House before opening the famed Gogi's dinner house which he and his wife Joyce ran with distinction for nine years.

He sold Gogi's a couple of years ago to the Murphy brothers and vamped for a bit before he and his spouse bought and began to remodel the historic Martin and Zigler blacksmith shop on California Street.

A month ago they opened Mama Mia Gelateria.

Some might say putting William Prahl behind the counter of a soup, panini, and gelato store is like making Tiger Woods manager of a putt-putt golf course.

Yet, one thing is assured with Prahl on the prowl, the viands will be pleasing and, in many cases, superb.

The space is modest with six tables and a slew of windows for maximum tourist-gazing. If the vacationers slow to a trickle, a gleaming kitchen is in full view bringing to mind a cozy Euro-style neighborhood café.

"Gelato" is Italian for ice cream, and it bears absolutely no relationship to gelatin-something that scares away vegetarians. "Gelato" simply means "frozen."

It differs from ice cream in a couple of important respects. For one, gelato contains only 5-8 percent butterfat against conventional ice cream's hefty 10-18 percent, but it doesn't lack for intense sensations and the mouth-watering richness we all crave.

In addition, gelato relies on freshness. The Prahl family makes it on the premises and infuses many of its offerings with fresh fruit.

Four of the fruit gelati are actually sorbets. These include lemon, raspberry, and mixed berry. The richest gelato is the stracciatella, a creamy vanilla drizzled with chocolate stripes.

Then there are trifle, pistachio, coffee, caramel, chocolate, tiramisu and ginaduia (a seductive premium chocolate). Cups and cones range from $2.95 to $4.25.

Panini means "little bread" in Italian and one can encounter these grilled sandwiches on focaccia which is often slightly fluffy or, as Prahl does, on unleavened flat bread. Most certainly he refuses to grill common loaf breads.

Recent visits have allowed me to sample two of his combos. The first was a tasty salami, basil, and provolone. The next was composed of genuine snow crab, avocado, and Jarlsberg cheese.

Next time I think I'll ask for a hint of Dijon or whole-grain mustard to help punch up the panini flavors. I have yet to sample the prosciutto, fig, and brie or the brie, apple and walnut. Make no mistake, these are substantial sandwiches and cost $7.95.

Prahl also does a Vienna Italian Beef sandwich with roasted sweet peppers and a giardiniera — a zesty mix of pickled peppers, onions, carrots and celery, different from the American version. He imports his authentic beef from Chicago, rubbed and thin-sliced and served with an authentic au jus.

The gelateria also does espresso drinks at reasonable prices as well as granitas and various juices and teas.

It goes without saying that folks attending the Britt Festival will want to scoop up a few panini and perhaps some gelato. The store provides Italian-made containers which will hold the gelato nicely until dessert time. Joyce Prahl may stay open a bit later than 6 on Britt nights.

The corn bisque I had recently was scintillating, creamy and redolent of rich corn essence with a typical piquant Prahl touch — a dash of corn whiskey. Of course, the alcohol had long evaporated, leaving only enigmatic flavors behind.

The following day Bill made a tomato and basil bisque.

It's great to have the Prahl family back in Jacksonville.

— Hubert Smith