Come the end of May or thereabouts, we more or less live on a diet of frozen dairy and other icy foodstuffs. It’s part Darwinian survival strategy and part hedonistic appreciation for anything that can be eaten from a cone — preferably one answering to “waffle.” And this summer has thus far presented an abundance of frozen treats previously unseen in New York’s history.
Between the gourmet popsicles, self-pasteurized organic ice cream, shaved ice, ice cream sandwiches, Thai sorbets, Big Easy Sno-Balls, idiosyncratically flavored gelato, gay soft-serve, and “individual-sized” ice cream cakes, New York has finally become a decent ice cream town, one that we’re beginning to hope may one day rival Boston or San Francisco. And so without further ado, we celebrate this new bounty — even as we reach gratefully for our Lactaid pills.
10. Imperial Woodpecker Sno-Balls: A Sno-Ball isn’t ball-shaped, and it’s not flavored with anything found in nature. But this frozen emissary from New Orleans is really good, in an over-the-top, proudly gastronomically incorrect sort of way. The ice comes shaved to order, finer than that found in a sno-cone, and is piled into cardboard Chinese takeout containers. The choice of syrups is vast and delightfully garish — we can personally vouch for blueberry and Tiger’s Blood — and makes brain-freeze loads of fun. 145 Seventh Avenue South, 251-366-7777
9. The Dutch’s lemon sherbet: All but synonymous with the more neglected end of the Baskin Robbins’ display case, sherbet occupies a shadowy netherworld between ice cream and sorbet, and is often mistaken for the latter. The difference is that sherbet has between 1 and 2 percent milk-fat content, while sorbet has none and ice cream must have at least 10 percent to be considered ice cream. When it comes to pastry chef Kierin Baldwin’s lemon sherbet, however, none of this really matters. The only thing that does is its supreme deliciousness, its expert sweet-tart balancing act, and a creaminess that some actual ice creams can only dream of. Served in a perfect orb, it looks like a pale yellow moon, and will pull you helplessly into its orbit. 131 Sullivan Street, 212-677-6200
8. Sky Ice: This little Park Slope shop offers an impressive array of ice creams, sorbet, and shave ice, but our favorites so far are its Thai-accented sorbets. Mango and mangosteen in particular are very refreshing, and (for sorbets) surprisingly creamy in texture. Their flavors are so pronounced and unadulterated that eating them is like eating fruit that’s been plugged into a Marshall stack. Which is another way of saying that we can’t wait to go back for more. 63 Fifth Avenue, Brooklyn, 718-230-0910
7. Quality Cakes’ Toasted Banana S’more: Although Quality Meats pastry chef Cory Colton debuted his line of ice cream cakes last year, we can’t resist paying homage to one of the new varieties on this summer’s menu. We are powerless in the face of banana-chip ice cream, particularly when it’s layered with slabs of graham cracker-chocolate chip cake, crowned with toasted marshmallow frosting, and, because too much is just enough, topped off with a miniature chocolate bar that juts from a scoop of ice cream like a toy ballerina perched on top of a music box. It is a creation that would make the ancient Romans blush, and as such makes us incredibly happy. 57 West 58th Street, 212-371-7777
6. Stellina: Stellina’s gelato is a hybrid of Italian tradition and American irreverence, which means it comes in flavors with names like Bananimal and Cinnamon Toast, and is paved with animal crackers, chocolate-covered marshmallows, brownies, and other bits and pieces that would probably incite a riot over at Grom HQ. Fortunately, there’s craft to back up the conceit: Bananimal, for example, is so full-flavored that it tastes as if its bananas were roasted, while La Strada was a satisfying blend of milk chocolate, peanuts, brownies, and marshmallows. Purists may be annoyed, and that’s fine, because that means there’s more for everyone else. 95 Allen Street, 212-274-9555
5. Steve’s strawberry ricotta ice cream: Steve’s hasn’t yet opened its Atlantic Avenue and Bryant Park storefronts, but some of its flavors are available by the pint in Whole Foods and other grocery stores. We’re big fans of the strawberry ricotta, which pays lip service to both local/artisanal fundamentalism and exceptional quality with its use of Salvatore Bklyn’s dreamy curds. It’s like eating the world’s biggest, creamiest strawberry, and as such, the half-life of an average pint is brief. stevesicecream.com
4. Coolhaus: Coolhaus’ ice cream sandwiches are massive and messy — and completely worth the dry-cleaning bills and accompanying loss of dignity that their consumption precipitates. It’s less ice cream sandwich than grapefruit-sized scoop of ice cream that happens to have crossed paths with of a couple of cookies, but fortunately, those chewy, pliant cookies are up to the challenge. Though we haven’t eaten Coolhaus’ signature, architecturally named creations — we can vouch for the ample pleasures of its baked-apple ice cream and maple waffle-white chocolate cookies. eatcoolhaus.com
3. Sa Aming Nayon’s Halo-Halo: The Philippines’ contribution to New York’s frozen-treats canon is also its most multifaceted. A combination of shaved ice and motley crew of beans, tapioca, flattened young rice, purple yam, and evaporated milk, halo-halo is a hodgepodge of flavors and textures, but in the best way possible. The beans are subtly sweet, the palm seeds and jackfruit vibrant and, well, fruity, the yam (or ube) chewy, and the ice and rice pleasingly crunchy. It’s all crowned with ice cream and a piece of leche flan, but somehow is neither too sweet nor overly filling. Between that and the unlikely harmony of its myriad components, you could say it’s a miracle dessert. 201 First Avenue, 212-388-0152
2. Culture: An American Yogurt Company: We’ve never been fans of frozen yogurt, but if one place can liberate it from its binge-eating-sorority-girl associations, it’s Culture. Its yogurt, made from antibiotic- and hormone-free milk from an upstate dairy and strained in the store, is bracingly tart and incredibly fresh. The day we went, we consumed a towering cup of apricot yogurt with blueberries, maple syrup, and wet pecans, and still haven’t quite gotten over its simple, straightforward goodness. Extra points to Culture for appropriating Dannon’s fruit-on-the-bottom concept — and for proving once and for all that frozen yogurt consumption doesn’t have to come at the expense of dignity. 331 Fifth Avenue, Brooklyn, 718-499-0207
1. Ample Hills Creamery: There’s a reason that Ample Hills sold out of all of its ice cream within its first four days of business, and a reason that it’s still selling out of its salted crack caramel. It is indeed habit-forming, thanks to its great reserves of salty, burnt-caramel flavor, and the sedimentary deposits of sugar-coated saltines and milk chocolate chunks buried in its depths. Impeccably creamy in texture, each scoop is like a bomb lobbed toward any measure of self-restraint, which makes us both sad and grateful that we don’t live anywhere near Prospect Heights. 623 Vanderbilt Avenue, Brooklyn
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