by Ann M. Colford and Susan Hamilton & r & & r & A Bite of Heaven DESSERTS & r & "This is heaven!" my daughter exclaimed after her first bite. With a pronouncement like that, I had to try a bite myself. Yes, it was rich, creamy, smooth and very satisfying. "It floats over your tongue like a cloud," she continued. My second taste confirmed that, too. The Donatella (Italian chocolate with hazelnut) and cherry cheesecake gelato I'd brought home from the recently opened Gelato Joe's was definitely a hit with my family.

"We offer 30 flavors of gelato daily," co-owner Leanne Smith says. "We make our gelato fresh every day, on site, using Italian recipes, product and equipment. In fact, a man from Milan showed us how to make our gelato."

If you think gelato is just Italian ice cream, Smith will tell you otherwise. "Gelato has 5 to 6 percent milk fat, while ice cream has more fat from cream," she says. "We make our gelato in small batches so there's less air in our product and more flavor. The timing and temperature are highly controlled."

Smith and her husband Ed knew about gelato from their travels to Italy. As flight attendants, they noticed that gelato was becoming popular in North America as well. They decided to blend their customer service skills and love of gelato into Spokane's only dedicated gelateria. "It's a business that we believe in and love," Smith says.

That love is evident in Gelato Joe's dairy and fruit gelato. Dairy flavors include tiramisu, hazelnut rock with chocolate crunchy sauce, cookies and cream with Oreos, pistachio and alpen caramel. Nonfat fruit flavors range from pink grapefruit to mango. The Smiths even make gelato sweetened with Splenda -- like chocolate and raspberry flavors.

In true Italian spirit, Gelato Joe's also features espresso and Desserts by Sarah -- super-rich brownies, huckleberry squares, fruit tarts and, of course, biscotti. The north-side shop is warm and inviting, with small tables where you can enjoy your gelato, espresso and sweets while imagining that you're in Italy. The earth-toned d & eacute;cor in Italian golds and olives features a hand-painted map of Italy on one wall and shelves with pottery, home d & eacute;cor and Jim Battell's artwork on another wall. It all makes for a little bite of heaven. -- Susan Hamilton

Gelato Joe's, 12408 N. Hwy. 395 (near Wandermere), is open Sun-Thurs noon-10 pm, Fri-Sat noon-11 pm. Call 465-3155.

My Main Squeeze SMOOTHIES & r & 'Tis the season for cool, refreshing treats, especially those made with healthy fruit, yogurt and energizing herbs like you can find at Keva Juice in Northpointe Plaza on Newport Highway. The menu offers a wide choice of fruit blends, both with and without nonfat frozen yogurt, plus a few tempting flavors -- like the low-fat Kevaccino -- without fruit. Every 24-ounce smoothie comes with your choice of a complimentary energizer, from a selection that includes vitamins, metabolism boosters, immune system supports or stress relievers.

Keva Juice, based in Albuquerque, N.M., got its start in the mid-'90s; soon the popularity of the shop's juices and smoothies prompted the owners to franchise the concept. The first franchise shop opened near Phoenix, Ariz., where Colville native Dan Sears and his wife, Christine, became loyal Keva Juice customers. When the Sears returned to the Inland Northwest, they decided to bring the Keva Juice concept back with them. Their freestanding shop, all done up in cheery tropical colors, is the first Keva Juice franchise in Washington.

"We wanted it to be bright and upbeat," says Christine Sears, while her daughter Ashley blends a drink for a customer at the busy drive-thru window. About one-third of customers come to the drive-thru, she says; during our Saturday morning visit, more than half the visitors ordered while idling at the window.

The Keva Kolada (pineapple, coconut, banana and frozen yogurt) and Strawberry Squeezer (apple and guava juices, banana, raspberry sherbet and strawberries) are top sellers, says Sears, while her absolute favorite is the "sinful" Peanut Butter Chocolate. Those who need an extra kick favor the Red Bull blends, but the Orange Obsession and Lime Me smoothies were big hits with our discerning taste-testers.

Keva Juice has grown tremendously and aims to be "the Starbucks of the smoothie world," says Sears, who's happy with the support they've received from the corporate office. Maybe someday a Hawaiian Holiday will be as ubiquitous as a double latte. -- Ann M. Colford

Keva Juice, 10220 N. Newport Hwy., is open Mon-Fri 7 am-8 pm; Sat 8 am-9 pm; Sun 10 am-7 pm. Visit or call 468-2242.

Dreamworks Animation: The Exhibition @ Northwest Museum of Arts & Culture

Tuesdays-Sundays, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Continues through Sept. 11
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