Last week, Battle of the Dishes turned its attentions to the newfangled popsicle. This week, with the heat of August still bearing down upon us, we travel to the East Village to explore another corner of the frozen-treats universe. The neighborhood is home to not one but two vegan ice cream parlors, Stogo and Lula’s Sweet Apothecary. The establishments are located within mere blocks of one another, and each has accumulated a loyal following of vegans, the lactose-intolerant, and the merely adventurous. But while they occupy the same ZIP code and use more or less the same descriptors to advertise their products, Stogo and Lula’s are selling very different experiences. So we were curious to find out how they compared.
First up was Stogo, whose website proclaims that “Our mission is to offer the healthiest, most delectable frozen dessert possible.” In addition to containing no animal products, Stogo’s “frozen dessert” eschews refined sugar, preservatives, and artificial flavorings. The company’s website also offers nutritional information to show you exactly how much healthier its product is than Häagen Dazs. Reading all of this, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the place offers colonics and juice fasts instead of anything that can be even loosely classified as “dessert,” much less ice cream.
But Stogo’s display case is indeed filled with a rather alluring display of vegan ice cream whose vibrant colors suggest that the flavors will be equally dynamic. We ordered a small cup with one scoop each of bananas Foster and chocolate chip cookie, which cost $4.65 after tax.
Here it should be said that we much prefer cones, but Stogo doesn’t offer them because, as one counter person told us, they haven’t been able to find a brand that’s both gluten-free and refined-sugar-free. Which honestly strikes us as excessive and a bit mean-spirited: Given that people are coming here for vegan ice cream and not sugar-free, gluten-free ice cream cones, why not at least give them a choice? While Stogo undoubtedly has plenty of customers who are gluten-intolerant and/or hate sugar, it seems likely that there are others, say those who are merely lactose-intolerant, who might enjoy having the option to eat a sugar cone. Plus, for a company that likes to preach about healthy this and organic that, it seems more than a little hypocritical to only offer plastic cups that just clog up trash cans and landfills. Which is a charge you can’t level at a cone, no matter how much gluten or sugar it contains.
Both flavors we ordered were soy-based (Stogo also offers hemp-based flavors). The bananas Foster was the better of the two, in that it tasted like bananas and caramel and, well, actual ice cream. Though its consistency was a little icy, it was altogether pretty good, and just sweet enough to pass as a real indulgence. The best part about the chocolate chip cookie ice cream was the chocolate chips, which were shaped like teardrops and tasted of high-quality bittersweet chocolate. While the flavor of the ice cream itself was fine, we felt a bit cheated by its lack of actual chocolate chip cookies. In the display case, the ice cream had been covered with crumbled-up cookies, but those were apparently employed, Coney Island sideshow-style, only to lure in the eager and unwitting. All in all, between the lack of cones and lack of cookies, we came away from Stogo feeling a bit like we’d been reprimanded by a schoolmarm.
So we went a few blocks south and two avenues east to Lula’s Sweet Apothecary, which is as cute and homespun as its name suggests. Lula’s makes all of its flavors in-house, from cashew milk, soy, and coconut milk bases, and sells them in a space that’s about the size of the front seat of a Datsun. We ordered one scoop each of peanut butter-fudge and Drumstick, the latter a riff on the Nestlé bodega staple. And we ordered them in a gluten-free cake cone. Stogo, we’re looking at you.
Two big scoops came to $5.50 after tax, and were, all told, pretty blissful. The peanut butter-fudge was the better of the two flavors, boasting deep reserves of full-bodied peanuty goodness and an exceptionally creamy texture. If you hadn’t been told it was vegan, you really wouldn’t have known the difference. The Drumstick, which was basically vanilla ice cream shot through with peanuts, chocolate chips, and bits of chopped-up cake cone, was fine, but marred by the chips, which were flavorless, and the bits of cone, which had the consistency of wet cardboard. Truth be told, cake cones in general tend to suck almost as hard as no cone at all, although they’re kind of nice once their nooks and crannies are filled with melting ice cream. Despite these flaws, the ice cream itself was delicious, and as creamy as its peanut butter counterpart.
So, in conclusion: While Stogo has its strong points — that bananas Foster really is a thing of beauty — icy texture, slightly misleading flavor descriptions, and a cone moratorium left us cold. So although Lula’s Drumstick was a bit disappointing, the texture and flavors of its ice cream, as well as its generous portions and the choice to order a cone, allowed Lula’s to take victory in this battle.
159 Second Avenue
Lula’s Sweet Apothecary
516 East 6th Street
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on August 19, 2010