The Fourth of July is nearly upon us, and few things are more American than the over-consumption of frozen dairy products. Last year, Fork in the Road ranked Our 10 Best Ice Creams and Other Frozen Treats, so this year, Fat Pants Friday has decided to celebrate our nation’s independence and many expanding waistlines with a guide to the burgeoning number of restaurants with ice cream carts. So without further ado, here are the good, the bad, and the underwhelming, and where they fall on the Fat Pants scale.
The General Greene. The DeKalb Avenue restaurant opened its cart last summer and quickly won a following for flavors like salted caramel pretzel, bitter chocolate mint, and Naughty Breakfast, a creation involving banana ice cream, bourbon-soaked raisins, and cereal. Owner Nicholas Morgenstern’s ice cream is Philadelphia-style, meaning it doesn’t contain any egg yolks. As a result, it’s lighter and not quite as creamy as ice cream made with a crème anglaise base. Detractors may find it a little on the icy side, but we find it smooth and refreshing. The salted caramel and Naughty Breakfast in particular are excellent; both perfectly balance their salty-sweet components, and their mixed-in ingredients give them an addictive crunch. The cart’s only drawback: It uses cake cones, not sugar cones. Two scoops are $5 and restrained enough to register only a Relaxed Fit on the FPF Scale. 229 DeKalb Avenue, Brooklyn, 718-222-1510
Hotel Griffou. Although Pete Wells was none too fond of its food and service, Hotel Griffou’s ice cream isn’t half-bad. The restaurant set up the cart at the beginning of June, and it sits on West 9th Street during the daytime, obscured by the shadows of the restaurant’s awning. Three dollars and 50 cents will buy you a smallish scoop, plunked into a sugar cone by an indifferent server. The flavors are solid and fairly straightforward: Think watermelon sorbet, key lime pie, and strawberries and cream. The standout is the salted caramel banana cream pie: Much like the General Greene’s, it achieves that ideal balance between salt and burnt sugar, with the bananas invoking memories of an after-school snack. It’s not ice cream to change your life, or even induce you to cross rivers, but it’s a pleasant way to spend 10 minutes on a sunny afternoon. Given the dainty scoops, it rates only a pair of Skinny Jeans on the FPF Scale. If you’re feeling particularly flush, fork over $5.50 for a large. 21 West 9th Street, 212-358-0228
Griff’s Gelato. Located next door to its parent restaurant, Duane Park, Griff’s Gelato was the undisputed letdown of the FPF ice cream tour. One of our colleagues had warned us of lackluster service — so lackluster he didn’t even get to buy any gelato — and his warning proved prophetic. The day we went, the girl in charge of the display case didn’t even know which flavors were which, and she asked us to try to distinguish between identical-looking containers of vanilla and lemon meringue. Had we known how disappointing they would be, we wouldn’t have bothered. Everything we tried — chocolate, vanilla, strawberries and cream — was rock hard, chalky, and crumbly. Even the sugar cones were bad: When the server put two scoops in a cup and stuck the cone on top, it shattered on impact.The reason there are no photos of what we ate is because we’re still trying to erase the memory of paying $5 for two scoops of some of the worst gelato we’ve ever had. 157 Duane Street, 212-732-5555
The Noho Star. This neighborhood stalwart’s gelato cart is a straightforward, easy-going affair. If the flavors are literally a bit vanilla, they’re also impeccably well-made. The day we went, we ordered caramel balsamic and strawberry balsamic sorbet. The sorbet was smooth, thick, and studded with crunchy strawberry seeds. Although the balsamic wasn’t really evident, the strawberries were a force to be reckoned with, imbuing the sorbet with sweet-tart vitality. The vinegar was slightly more noticeable in the caramel, but what really resonated was the welcome taste of dark, expertly burnt sugar. Also working in the Noho Star’s favor was the cart’s incredibly friendly server, who deftly molded the gelato into two perfect spheres, which cost $5. Because one was sorbet, the whole thing registered a pair of Relaxed Fit on the FPF Scale, making it an excellent afternoon pick-me-up. 330 Lafayette Street, 212-925-0070
Odeon. Almost literally around the corner from the blighted Griff’s Gelato, Odeon’s cart clearly offers Tribeca’s superior scoop. Although we weren’t fans of it last summer — the flavors were pale, the texture too icy — the restaurant has made some improvements. The ice cream’s consistency is thick and lush, and flavors like hazelnut and butter pecan boasted depth and dimension. And perhaps best of all, everything comes in a thick, vanilla-scented waffle cone, making even a $3.50 single scoop seem like an exercise in decadence. Thanks to the waffle cone, Odeon’s single serving rates a Relaxed Fit on the FPF Scale — but if you want to do some real damage, there’s room in that cone for another scoop. 145 West Broadway, 212-233-0507
Cookshop. Cookshop first rolled out its wood-shingled ice cream cart last year, and it’s easy to see why it was popular enough to merit a return engagement. The Chelsea restaurant’s pastry chef, Emily Wallendjack, is responsible for its offerings, which are deposited into sugar cones that are then stowed in a simple yet ingenious cone holder while you pay for them. We tried lemon curd and chocolate chip, and both were excellent. Lemon curd was tart and radiant with citrus, with just enough sugar to soften its punch. Chocolate chip tasted of vanilla beans and semisweet chocolate, and was comforting in its familiarity. Both, it should be added, taste even better when consumed on the nearby High Line, amid the wild flowers and cool breezes. Each scoop costs $3.50 and alone rates a pair of Skinny Jeans — taken together, though, they’re firmly in Relaxed Fit territory. 156 Tenth Avenue, 212-924-4440
Jacques Torres Chocolate Haven. True, this is not a restaurant, unless you consider candy and cookies to be a meal (and if you do, more power to you). But because ice cream is not its main concern, and because that ice cream is so spoon-bendingly fine, Jacques Torres more than qualifies for this list. Five dollars and 50 cents will buy you two very generous scoops of some of the creamiest, most vibrantly flavored ice cream this city has ever known, and the best part is that they come in sturdy waffles cone redolent of vanilla and joy. We’re particularly enamored of the strawberry, hazelnut-chocolate chip, “wicked” spiced chocolate, and coconut sorbet. Admittedly, these are fairly safe flavors, and more adventurous ice cream obsessives may feel underwhelmed. But if the Torres cart proves anything, it’s that high-quality ice cream doesn’t need bells or whistles to get attention — and also that, given the portions, it can be a meal. The specimens above certainly were; they rate a solid pair of Sweatpants on the FPF scale. 350 Hudson Street, 212-414-2462
Quality Meats. Just as Jacques Torres is not technically a restaurant, the ice cream cart at Quality Meats is not technically an ice cream cart. It is an ice cream counter, and the ice cream cakes that emerge from behind it are more accurately described as controlled substances.
This is in part because the restaurant’s pastry chef, Cory Colton, wisely has little use for gastronomically correct ingredients: The whipped topping on his line of cakes is made with corn syrup, stabilizers, flavorings, and vegetable oil. And held aloft by a half-pint’s worth of frozen cake and ice cream and garnished with a fondant cow, it is bliss. Having consumed the Monster Mash, a caloric black hole of peanut butter cake, chocolate ice cream, caramel whipped topping, and dark chocolate beads, we can say that reason and restraint are absolutely no match for textural perfection and slabs of half-frozen peanut butter. Put another way, it’s the dessert equivalent of having sex with someone in an alley behind a bar — a guilty, roll-in-the-gutter, dirty pleasure. There’s no need to exchange names or pleasantries; just have your way and tell it all to your diary later. Needless to say, everything the counter serves rates a Burlap Sack Held With Rope. Further evidence can be found below. 57 West 58th Street, 212-371-7777