August 3, 1970 | Vintage Insatiable
Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Ice Cream But Were Too Fat To Ask
Ice cream unleashes the uninhibited eight-year-old's sensual greed that lurks within the best of us. I do not celebrate the Spartan scoop of vanilla the incurably constricted grownup suffers to cap a pedestrian dinner. I sing of great gobs of mellow mint chip slopping onto your wrist as your tongue flicks out to gather the sprinkles. I sing of champagne and rum raisin and two spoons in bed on New Year's Eve. I sing of the do-it-yourself-sundae freakout with a discriminating collector's hoard of haute toppings—wet walnuts, hot fudge, homemade peach conserve, Nesselrode, marrons and brandied cherry—whisk-whipped cream, a rainbow of sprinkles and crystals and crisp toasted almonds, inspiring a madness that lifts masks, shatters false dignity and bridges all generation gaps.
Grownups who never eat ice cream are instantly suspect.
They probably hate sand, sleep in pajamas, never eat spareribs and kiss with their mouths closed. What are they trying to hide?
New York is in the full throes of an ice cream renaissance. The hand-dipped ice cream cone market is highly bullish. Barricini began hawking "the biggest dip in town," 25 cents a cone, free sprinkles, in its candy shops this summer. Lines formed. Queues began to tail around the corner. Inspired, Chock Full O' Nuts began selling cones in certain bellwether outlets. Barton's was not blind. A crash campaign to meet the hand-dipping competition in selected stores is in the final countdown . . . and Barton's vows to grace Brooklyn's King's Plaza Shopping Center with "a major ice cream parlor" by the end of August. Carvel braced to survive the promised invasion of Baskin-Robbins. Yum Yum conspired to topple them all. And Häagen-Daz's infuriated rival ice cream makers by breaking all the rules at 85 cents a pint.
In these harsh and uncertain times, as the establishment cracks and institutions crumble, it is no wonder we reach out to ice cream. It is a link to innocence and security, healing, soothing, wholesome . . . the last of the eternal verities. Or is it?
Little girls are made of sugar and spice and everything nice.
Ice cream ought to be too. Alas, it is not.
Most ice cream sold today is sadly "mock." It is half air and almost totally synthetic, laced with seaweed, gum acacia, locust bean gum and such chemical goodies as propylene glycol (an antifreeze), glycerin, sodium car-boxy methylcellulose, monoglycerides, diglycerides, disodium phosphate, tetrasodium pyrophosphate, polysorbate 80 and dioctyl sodium sulfosuccinate—all these to "stabilize" and "emulsify." All is fair to cut costs: dried eggs, dried milk, whey, corn syrup instead of sugar, the cheapest artificial flavoring.
Government standards set a few minimums: 10 per cent butterfat and no more than 50 per cent air (what the industry refers to as 100 per cent overrun). A half-gallon must weigh at least two and a half pounds. The only information the law demands on the label is evidence of artificial flavoring.
Ice cream makers have been backed against the wall by supermarket muscle, their own merchandising traditions and the public's indifference to quality:
"When we put $100,000-worth of freezers into a supermarket chain that buys our ice cream, the supermarket can name the price. If they demand a 69-cent half gallon, we've got to produce it or get our freezers out."
One cunning economy pursued by ice cream makers was to re-import at a pittance surplus American butter shipped overseas as part of the government's dairy price support program. When dairy lobbyists got the government to outlaw the practice, ice cream makers found a new loophole: Canadian ice cream. It comes in duty-free, 40 per cent butterfat, made from guess-who's surplus butter . . . and is reblended to meet commercial ice cream standards. Today's store-bought "home-made" ice creams are likely to be blends of dairy mix and canned flavorings, varying in integrity.
Ice cream is like wine. It ranges from the meanest vin ordinaire to the grand cru yield of the great chateaus. The best American ice cream is made from rich fresh cream (eggs if it is "French" ice cream), fresh fruit purée or cooked syrups, salt, sometimes gelatin, natural flavorings, fresh fruit and nuts. Manufacturers don't like to talk about air—it smacks of deceit. But when you hand-crank ice cream you are beating air into it. And air, at judiciously balanced levels, is what makes the classic American ice cream so smooth and creamy.
Too much air breeds anemia. Too little air makes a dense, soggy blend and, ice cream makers say, resists flavoring. Ice cream traditionalists frown on sharp deviations from this balance. That's why they snarl and rage over the success of "dense, soggy," low-overrun Häagen-Dazs. And they don't like seeing Häagen-Dazs' little tubs nestled in their own supermarket freezers.
Ice Cream To Lick or Carry Out
If I have only one life to live, let me live it next door to Baskin-Robbins and its incredible changing parade of 31 flavors: Each month Baskin-Robbins giveth. Each month B-R taketh away. August hails strawberry-banana and "back from vacation": German chocolate cake, pineapple nut, peppermint, strawberry-rhubarb and lemon sherbet, sparkling Burgundy, watermelon ice. Going out —sob!—beloved mandarin chocolate, noble fudge brownie, strawberry shortcake, pink grapefruit, and tangerine. Perfectly stable minds creak and cloud under the pressure of decision: rocky road, Oregon blackberry, plum nuts, boysenberry cheesecake. Once in a Virginia Baskin-Robbins a plump nine-year-old boy stalled traffic for excruciating minutes as he considered the fatal choice. Finally . . . finally . . . he spoke: "I'll take vanilla." I shook my head sadly—there was a kid with real problems.
Mr. R. and the late Mr. B. started with one small stand in Glendale, California. Today there are almost 900 units cross country. Their formula: 14 per cent butterfat, low overrun and top-quality fruits, nuts and flavorings at a premium price: cones are 25, 40 and 55 cents, sundaes 65 cents, a hand-packed pint 75 cents (French vanilla and chocolate fudge slightly higher). Each store is stocked with tiny plastic tasting spoons. Unlimited tasting is—supposedly—welcomed. "Our first commandment," said the B-R spokesman: "Use the tasting spoons." B-R has made cautious inroads into the Bronx, Brooklyn and Queens . . . but not yet Manhattan. "We're surrounding you," B-R's spokesman noted. "We'll soon be taking you by storm. By late fall," she promised.
So off we drove to the Forest Hills outpost at 72-62 Austin, where the glass windows were frosted by the heavy-breathing hordes. I tasted pralines 'n' cream. I tasted mango. I was about to ask for a sample of red, white and blueberry when the Kulture Maven hissed in my ear: "Are you crazy? This is New York." He bought me a mandarin chocolate cone. "How many tastes do you allow?" I asked. "Five," said the counter boy, "but no more for you because you've already chosen." He then hand packed two pints of jamoca and chocolate fudge so loosely they fell three-quarters of an inch by morning. If I have but one life to live, I guess I won't live it next door to the Forest Hills Baskin-Robbins.
Häagen-Dazs heads are insatiable. All that kept Ali MacGraw together during the filming of Goodbye, Columbus was periodic mainlining of Häagen-Dazs. Before she discovered sensory awareness, Life's Jane Howard wrote, "If I were being executed tomorrow morning, what I'd order for dessert tonight would be a dish of Coffee Häagen-Dazs." The Häagen-Dazs hysteria enrages rival ice cream makers. "It's the biggest farce in the industry," one told me. "It isn't even ice cream. It's soggy. And have you seen that boysenberry? The color . . . eeck . . . it's sickening." Why so livid? Jealousy, partly. And conservatism. By tradition, the best American ice cream has been a balance of fresh thick cream, the best fruits, quality flavoring and air. By lowering the butterfat slightly and introducing very little air, Häagen-Dazs creates a heavy, sophisticated frozen dessert. Not only do rival ice cream makers consider that subversive, they are quick to note that the map on the Häagen-Dazs package with Oslo, Stockholm and Copenhagen starred suggests that the ice cream is flown here by SAS, when in fact it is brewed in the Bronx. Häagen-Dazs fans couldn't care less. The flavors are chocolate, vanilla, coffee, rum raisin, boysenberry and "after four years of seeking perfection," strawberry, a fruit-studded sensation, each 85 cents a pint.
Good Humor has had its occasional excesses: prune, kumquat, licorice and that all-time loser, the chile con carne Good Humor. But for half a century the men in white have hawked whole-some and irresistible whimsies on a stick. Brooklyn Good Humor man Joseph Bivona even aided in the emergency delivery of a six-pound, two-ounce baby girl. "I'm sure he saved my little girl's life," the grateful mother said. "You know, I thought he was a doctor. He was wearing a white coat." Nine hundred G-H vendors in New York City are featuring pistachio crunch this week, first revival in nine years. On August 7, the tiger-stripe bon joy swirl cup (orange and root beer). August 21, banana split. Labor Day, strawberry shortcake, 12 percent butterfat, 90 per cent overrun. Specials now up to an inflationary 25 cents.
Devotees of soft ice cream swear by Carvel. It tastes like sweetened shaving foam to me. But in Carvel's bulk ice cream (at 75 cents a pint), rum raisin has ofttimes soothed my soul. Carvel also does ice cream cakes, tarts, sno-balls, icy wycy, the lollapalooza, the papapalooza and the mamapalooza: the cryogenic family. A dazzlingly gallant gentleman manages the Broadway and 78th Street unit. When my shoppingbag-load of rival ice cream ripped into shreds, he voluntarily collected the whole mess and repacked it in a Carvel sack. The staff here is also notoriously tolerant of children. In New York that may count more than mere butterfat.
The sign over 263 Amsterdam Avenue boasts 101 Varieties of Yum Yum. The flavor lineup is dazzling— brandy Alexander, cantaloupe à la mode, coconut, bubblegum, peanut butter and jelly, Burgundy punch, Scotch on the rocks—but Yum Yum makes Carvel taste like quality. The claim is 12 per cent butterfat, 80 per cent overrun. It tastes thin to me. Still, at the crossroads of Broadway and 72nd Street, I suspect that giant chocolate-covered banana rocket could be a winner.
The Camel's Hump, 130 West Third Street, usually serves Arabic ice cream, apricot and pistachio—almost solid fruit or solid nuts, glued together by clotted cream and perfume-scented gum arabic. Rich, chewy, unusual and sublime. In late July the heat was on. Literally. And the man who makes ices at Alwan's Oriental Confectionary, 183 Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn, was on vacation. When he gets back, you can buy it there too.
Stoned and sober they flock to The Ice Cream Connection, 24 St. Marks Place, for a butterfat high on soothing, digestible goat's milk ice cream, sweetened with organic honey, 35 cents a scoop . . . "Tell a friend." The I.C.C.'s Leslie Margulies, second-generation Coney Island, struggles to keep goat's milk ice cream in stock. But he also blends 23 cow-generated ice creams out back—a very rippled fudge ripple, peach brandy with slices of peach, old fashioned apple with bits of fruit and cinnamon. Also Acapulco Gold—peach studded with "hash" (flaked chocolate)—and Panama Red—"hash" plus maraschino and Burgundy cherries in a cherry cream, 25 cents for a generous dip, 5 cents extra for sprinkles. "I'm an existentialist," the Ice Cream Connection says. "I give people a choice." He's 85 per cent into macrobiotics himself. The other 15 per cent is tasting his own ice cream. "Ice cream is a pleasant world," he says. "People don't walk in all uptight the way they do going to buy a $200 Cardin suit." The sign on the wall reads: THE WORLD SO MADE IS STILL BEING MADE AND GETTING MORE BEAUTIFUL EVERY DAY. How does goat's milk ice cream taste? I tried peach. The first taste is peach. The second taste is goat.
The goat taste is more subtle in the papaya ice cream shake blended at Health E Snack, 133 West Third Street. There is also a strawberry shake with organic strawberries, 65 cents. And goat's milk ice cream by the scoop, 35 and 50 cents, in a wheat-germ cone.
When serious ice cream eaters speak of Wil Wright's in Los Angeles, voices crack, eyes mist, nostalgia triggers little orgasmic shivers. Can ice cream be that much better? Loyalists insist Wil Wright's is. Top executives will only say, "There isn't anyone that approaches our butterfat." But a spokesman told New York it is 20 per cent in the chocolate and vanilla, 16 to 20 in the other flavors. Low overrun and quality ingredients enhance that overwhelming sensation of frozen decadence, at a mere $1.10 per pint. Wil Wright's is not available in New York. It is available at Neiman-Marcus in Dallas . . . but that is a rather considerable detour. Martin Perlberg, vice president of the RKO-Stanley Warner Theatres, has it shipped here by air, once a month. All it takes is money—about $8 or so to jet in four pints. And a messenger to rush it to your freezer. Happily, something called Wil Wright's America . . . "fun, food and ice cream" is now being packaged for national franchising.
The Ice Cream Parlor
For the ultimate gross in wickedly opulent glop and an utterly congenial ambiance, nothing surpasses The Flick. To slide deep into the dim caverns of the handsome mahogany, slightly rickety booths, and confront MISSION IMPOSSIBLE, oozing heady butterscotch, marshmallow, hot fudge, crushed pineapple and whipped cream mountains over rolling hills of homemade eggnog, rum raisin and Burgundy cherry ice cream, $2.50. No one can see. It's almost like eating ice cream in a closet. Yes, The Flick has flicks, old-time movies at nine, midnight and 3 a.m., and leggy serving wenches in leotards and pop-up bosoms. I couldn't care less. There are 22-ounce sodas, $2.25; the $14.95 kitchen sink (serves 8 to 10), and 2-cents plain "on the house"—just ask. From 11 a.m. to 6 a.m., 1074 Second Avenue (near 56th). They deliver, too.
Hicks, the venerable fruiterer at 16 East 49th Street, is not the same at all since its manic prankster soda chef, Mr. Jennings, defected after 26 years. And some are grateful: "Don't you notice how quiet it is," the cashier marveled. If you can stand the acoustics (lunch is shrill) and the dialogue ("My mother has pyorrhea," from the next table) and the aqua candy-box décor (hard-edge Viennese Formica), Hicks fruit-laced flaming and hot fudge extravaganzas are a special joy. A crunchy mélange—apple, orange (with pits), pineapple, banana, grape (more pits) and slightly ravaged berries—enhances the flaming robin rose glow ($1.95), a jolly green-and-pink giant topped with an immolated dab of pound cake . . . and lends a wholesome raison d'être to an otherwise sinful deluxe banana split, $2.35 (hot fudge, mint, four scoops of ice cream, unsweetened whipped cream). Sweet and sour and beautifully thirst-quenching is the Lemonsher, with raspberry sherbet and floating berries, $1.65. Hicks hot ice cream soda, $1.65, is, I fear, an acquired taste.
After a long and notorious monologue at Hicks, the Old-Fashioned Mr. Jennings, self-styled lovable tyrant, is running the world from his own cozy, fresh, red-white-and-blue empire at 28 East 70th Street. It is French, says Jennings, smoothing his apache neckerchief, because "I'm a little Napoleon . . . get it?" And it is Early American too because . . . maybe the graphics designer got confused. The menu is fractured French, with Mr. Jennings' Scream Delights at $2.95 and up. Hicks fancier productions are here renamed: "Le Madame Mere, L'Elba, Chaud-Froid, Le Hot Fudge Désirée. Counter prices are lower, after-theatre prices are higher. There is lunch, intense rivalry for the status tables from ladies dining with their decorators, a light pre-theatre dinner and homey philosophy from Mr. Jennings: "First God created heaven and earth. Then he created soda fountains. And that is how it should be. Don't let the devil fill your mind with thoughts of calories . . . Always be polite to Mr. Jennings. He'll keep us young forever. He doesn't care for war, he doesn't care for jewels, he doesn't care for architecture. Mr. Jennings knows what counts. Sodas. And heavenly sweets. Blasphemous blendings of delectable fruits. No matter how many years you live, everything in Mr. Jennings' place tastes as good as treats did when you were a kid. Guaranteed." Open till midnight.
The tartufo at Trattoria is an honorable, unashamed steal from Tre Scalini in Rome's Piazza Navona—the same stinging voluptuousness of chocolate, dense, dark and velvety, a brandied cherry at its core, spiked with rum and Strega, slathered with shingles of dark bitter chocolate. It is served far too frozen. A serious tartufo fancier will command that one be set aside to mellow during lunch . . . or he may call ahead as he would to order a rare old wine decanted. There is a born-confectionary master in the Trattoria kitchen, Lorenzo Dolcino (O! Destino!), apprenticed to an ice cream parlor at the age of nine. Dolcino blends gelato two or three times a week, a few gallons at a time, from scratch, not a mix, with imported and domestic flavorings, 18 per cent butterfat and almost negligible overrun. His caffé is espresso, the lemon ice tart, intoxicating . . . citrus speed. The granita di caffé is strong, black, subtly sweetened; the pistachio, a bland disappointment. The sign on the door says ITALIANS ARE BEAUTIFUL. Our waiter, alas, was not. Asked to describe the duomo Lorenzo, 95 cents, the chef's proud creation of frozen zabagliogne, custard, buttercream, Grand Mariner and crushed macaroons, he called it "ice cream with some stuff." The eight-ounce coppa gelato caffé, 95 cents, arrived exquisitely mellow. "Sophia," $1.50, was an insult to newly awakened feminist sensitivities. Atop a torso of rum-soaked sponge cake and berries, two scoops of gelato—side by side, each topped with a strawberry aureole and a pignoli nut. We were not amused. Open 7:30 to 3:30 a.m. Pan Am Building.
Everything at Rumpelmayer's tastes like undiluted quality: the best ice cream, real whipped cream, superior fruit toppings, French fan biscuits, proper and restained. Nothing to make the pulse race . . . but very good. Sundaes, $1; sodas, 90 cents; ice cream, 80 cents; banana splits, $1.75. The shop is genteel, faintly old-world, little-old-lady and jaded-moppet populated . . . but warm just the same. At the St. Moritz, Central Park South, just east of Sixth Avenue.
When Joe Valachi was captive for 1,001 nights spinning tales about a shadow kingdom called Cosa Nostra, his one regret was enforced exile from Ferrara's, the beloved pasticceria at 195 Grand Street. Ferrara's is the Deux Maggots of Little Italy. I'm so hooked on the cannoli alla Siciliana, I rarely indulge in the gelato. But it is blended on the premises, lean (8 per cent butterfat) and heavy (low overrun), more authentic than Trattoria's creamy glamorized version. Spumoni, tortoni, gelati and ices, 40 and 50 cents. Spumoni by the pint, $1.50.
Even the most cynical and irreverent New Yorker still believes in Schrafft's. Love is blind. I find Schrafft's ice cream slightly anemic and its sundaes choreographed for little old ladies who eat like birds. The Broadway sundae, one small scoop of chocolate, is served in a shallow glass dish, admittedly classy, with good chocolate sauce, seven fine toasted almonds, a handful of pecans. Only 75 cents. There was even less vanilla beneath a marshmallow-hot butterscotch coverlet. Oh, well, moderation isn't fatal.
Capri Pizza, just east of the seamy crossroads of Broadway and 72nd Street, is a pop food stand with one patrician aberration: the ice cream. It's the same quality Continental served by Rumpelmayer's and the Four Seasons, 27 flavors, including an excellent vanilla, rum coffee and chocolate chocolate chip, 45 cents a dish; sundaes, 75 cents; $1.05 the carry-out pack. The music is skating rink. The crowd, a typical West Side potpourri: chess players, old Automat devotees, young marrieds, and muggers.
Serendipity's menu is an exercise in serendipity: "the art of finding the unusual or the pleasantly unexpected by chance or sagacity." Jaded boutique hounds perk up over pickled juice, red spice soup, the hangover omelet and Aunt Buba's sand tarts. But Serendipity is a fantasy recreation of an ice cream parlor with carved turn-of-the-century wood filigree and stained glass. It would be a crime not to serve ice cream. So Serendipity does, at 75 cents a dish . . . $2.25 for hot fudge or caramel sundaes, $3 for a grandly gross banana split, slightly buried in heavy whipped cream. Devotees tout the frozen hot chocolate, $1.50 . . . a tub of slushy chocolate topped with chocolate-flecked cream. Four straws. Seven days a week, 11:30a.m.to 1a.m. Portable potables, too.
The crown jewel of San Francisco has a listless imitation at 121 East 59th Street. Blum's is suffering a strange case of transplant shock: it is pink all over, with a chronic case of chill. Still, the ice cream is good—burnt almond especially. The shakes are tall and creamy at $1.20, and there are some fancy candy sundae frills, $1.75 up. The butterfat is willing but the soul is lacking and forlorn.
How long had it been since a Thomforde patron ordered the lover's delight? The waitress had no idea how to make it . . . but she ad-libbed brilliantly: a splash of rum raisin, then peach, banana, whipped cream, crushed nuts. Obviously, Thomforde aficionados like their homemade ice cream straight, or with a blanket of hot fudge. I found everything a bit too sweet. The Begum Kaufman disagreed: "When I go, I want to go all the way." The Thomfordes have been indulging Harlem's sweet tooth at the magnificent carved mahogany soda counter with its turn-of-the-century frosted glass since 1903. Broadway flip, banana split, pineapple temptation, 75 cents; frostee chocolate, 55 cents. Carry-out pint, 55 cents. Ice cream cakes, $3.50 and up. Lenox and 125th Street.
Papa Jahn opened his first soda parlor in the Bronx in 1897. Elsie, Frank and Howard brought the family tradition to Jamaica, Richmond Hill and Flushing. Today there are seventeen Jahn's Ice Cream Emporiums, eight family-owned, the rest franchised, and a few of the old-fashioned virtues are sorely tarnished. There is nothing wrong with a light commercial ice cream 12 to 14 per cent butterfat, 80 per cent overrun. But spare us that mock-cream bomb, "Whipt-Rite," lined up along the counter 24 canisters deep, like an army of mercenaries. The Richmond Hill Jahn's was once a grand beauty. Now the scarred, dark stained paneling is half hidden behind rosewood Formica, and the magnificent gaslights, chandeliers and soda parlor advertising memorabilia are flanked with hanging baskets of artificial flowers and American flags. The menu is big on wisecracks, not too specific: the thing . . . "we dare you to open it" . . . no-sher's nightmare, $1.50 . . . "Burp!!!" Our waitress, a bored, stone-faced little beauty, very skinny (obviously loathes ice cream and people who eat it), wasn't much help either. If you are hopelessly compulsive-obsessive, you can invent your own butterfat pacifier. Sodas are 60 cents. "Teeny tummy ticklers," 70 and 75 cents. "Large tummy ticklers," up to $2.95. The kitchen sink serves four to six, $7.50.
Mr. Waffles is a bit forlorn and tacky but the menu is promising: intoxicating peach brandy royal sundae, $1.25; strawberry blond and Gibson girl, $1; seventeen sodas, including Hoboken and sarsaparilla; parfaits, including coconut Hawaiian and tin roof with salted Spanish peanuts. The $1 black cherry parfait comes in a thin metal cylinder: two tiny scoops of ice cream, some blobs of aerated cream, and sweet, sweet lovely black cherry sauce. 27 West Eighth Street.
The Acropolis on the corner of First Avenue at 68th Street is a plain, dowdy luncheonette that makes its own ice cream in ten flavors, 14 per cent butterfat, from a dairy ice cream mix. The prices are realistic: 45 cents in a dish; sodas and shakes, 50 cents; sundaes, 70 cents. The pint is 80 cents.
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