On this frigid, snow-covered Sunday morning, I’m singing the praises of ice cream. Yes, ice cream. Even though I am sitting in front of a roaring fire in the fireplace eating steaming oatmeal, what is on my mind this morning is the creamy confection that is one of the few things I can actually and truthfully call a vice; A.K.A a potential personal problem- an addiction that could hurt me, which I know even as I’m gobbling it down. I love ice cream, but it doesn’t love me or my intestines. Some things are just worth the pain.
The reason I’m thinking about this is because last night, after enjoying a wonderful meal at Peking Duck House on Mott Street, we took a detour to the Chinatown Ice Cream Factory on Bayard. I won’t tell you that if you are in this part of town, you should definitely stop in and sample everything. I’m telling you to make a special trip to Chinatown just to go there and sample everything. I was tempted beyond all reason by the red bean and green tea flavors, old favs, but was even more excited by the Zen Butter, Ginger and Taro flavors. Our friend, who is obviously an expert on everything food (which we all acknowledge as we sit back and have her order our meals every time we go out) chose Black Sesame. One spoonful and I was a junkie. Can’t wait to go back.
Ice cream has always been a special part of my life. Near the apartment where I grew up in Queens, there was a Dairy Queen, a Carvel’s, Eddie’s Sweet Shop, a Baskin’ Robbins and a Jahn’s Ice Cream Parlor, where every kid wanted her birthday party. Every afternoon the Mr. Softee truck came singing around the neighborhood, competing with the Good Humor man’s happy bell-ringing. Even when money was a problem for us, our family would find a way to make ice cream happen as frequently as possible. Not often enough for this kid, but that’s the way it was. Mr. Softee Mickey Mouse chocolate dip, Baskin’ Robbins hard ice cream, Carvel bing cherry hot fudge sundaes- in my world ice cream has always been its own food group.
Another iconic New York City place to try is Max and Mina’s on Main Street in Flushing. They make flavors on request and invite input and suggestions. Among those flavors that patrons have requested are Merlot and Beer ( I haven’t tasted those, as I like to keep my vices separate), Potato Chip Fudge, Apple with Jalapeno Peppers and Graham Crackers, Boston Cream Pie Donut, and Vanilla with Strawberries and Balsamic Vinegar. If these sound too off-the-wall, they also have normal flavors that are just as creamy and delicious.
Speaking of creamy, I’m going out on a limb and admitting I’m not a fan of Cold Stone. The texture just isn’t perfect- it seems like they are trying too hard with the amazing menu choices of add-ins to spend the time to get the ice cream right. Sorry if you’re a fan. And no blog of mine about ice cream would be complete without singing the praises of Mad Martha’s and Ben & Bill’s on Martha’s Vineyard. The lines out the door last well past midnight, and the wait is worth it. Walk up to the counter in Mad Martha’s with a group of friends and “oink” and see what happens. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
When I was in college in the early 80’s, I had many jobs. Born out of hunger and the need to keep from being homeless, I did anything that paid. When I found a job at a place called Eric’s Ice Cream that made its own right in the back room, I thought I had found a temporary Nirvana. The flavors were unique to Eric: oatmeal raisin cookie, peanut butter chocolate chip and cinnamon. His current features include Viagra chip (sprinkled with blue M&Ms) and an interesting concoction probably born out of necessity as he aged, Gentle Persuasion, made with oatmeal and prunes. I guess Eric was and still is a man ahead of his time. We newbies were trained to make each menu item using a scale for exact measuring. Any mistakes we made, even once we started serving customers, we had to eat. For a junkie like me, this was not a problem. I admit here and now to making many “mistakes” and happily paying the consequences. But Eric knew what he was doing- even someone like me can’t eat enough ice cream to hurt a business once we have been “punished” in this way for a few weeks.
When our kids were very small, we purchased a crank ice-cream maker. What fun we had creating fresh treats to enjoy. It’s not hard when you have five crankers to help make peach or strawberry ice cream after a trip to the orchards. The reward far outweighed the effort. In fact, making your own using a hand crank set-up makes you feel like you did a bit of a workout and earned your prize. Whatever. It’s all just an excuse to gobble ice cream as guilt-free as possible.
I don’t eat nearly as much ice cream as I used to. Nor as much as I would like. I have discovered the joys of frozen yogurt, which sounds much healthier, tastes wonderful and doesn’t hate my intestines as much. I have a new obsession with Frannie’s Goodies Shop fro-yo and spend several days a week choosing from the flavors and toppings to make something super yummy. But last night I was reminded that although I love frozen yogurt, it’s not a substitute in any way for the creamy, sweet and flavorful delight of a high quality ice cream. Dammit, now I want some.