Monday, June 13, 2011
Summer-O-Rama: Ice Cream/Gelato
By the calendar, it's not summer quite yet. Even by the weather, which has at some points been depressing and manic, it's still spring. But, that hasn't really stopped us from getting ourselves into a summer state of mind. With burger reviews done, Mr. A has a whole summer worth of assignments lined up for us and, from group consensus, Ice Cream and Gelato was our first task to be tackled.
It never really bodes well when you have to review something that has been recently voted a 'Best Of.." as Beals Ice Cream was in the 2010 and 2011 Phoenix 'Best Of..' readers poll.
There's hype and expectations to live up to. Things that I've found hardly ever get fulfilled when theory becomes actual. I kind of punked out by picking it. My first option, enviably scooped up by the Werewolf, was Gorgeous Gelato--which the Missus and I recently visited for the first time and fell head over heels in love with. So, I went with the first one that came to mind and kicked myself later because I could have used this as motivation to visit a new (to us) stand.
That's not to say, however, that I dislike Beals. It's shop in the Old Port is a justifiable madhouse on a hot summer day, townies and tourists alike cramming in the small shop hoping for refuge and relief (which you will get ONLY if you have cash, so plan accordingly). But, it's the drive up stand, on Veranda St., that I enjoy the most. It reminds me of the soft serve stands I frequented back in New York. So, when the forecasters were predicting 85+ degree weather we decided that it was a perfect time forgo cooking, head across Baxter Boulevard and have some ice cream for dinner.
And Beals definitely wins the award for options, either in flavor, topping or method of delivery(cone, cup, shake, sundae, etc...). It's actually a bit overwhelming. I've impulse ordered the few times we've been there. Having had panicked when I've gotten up to that window, blurting out a flavor choice in which the ingredients were a bit sketchy to me, I obsessed a little over it. This time I made sure that my selection was picked several hours before I even left work.
While friends rave about the Indian Pudding, Grasshopper or Maple Walnut varieties, I thought the true measure of their quality would be how well they do a simple vanilla. I mean, any ice cream maker can throw a ton of candy into their base to hide any flaws, right? So, I would judge based on how well their basic vanilla was, while the Missus did opt for one of their many mix-in flavors, grabbing a single scoop sugar cone of their Toffee Heath Bar Crunch.
After we got our order and headed back to sit in the car, I asked her what she thought about it.
"It's good," she said in a way that was really was saying, "It's ice cream, how bad can it be?" She seemed a bit ambivalent about the flavor and wasn't swoony over it. And, when I finally got to dig into mine--a hot fudge sundae with vanilla ice cream-- I kind of had the same inner shrug.
Yes, it was a good sized, fudge laden sundae but nothing about it was really interesting. Every single component of it tasted like the store bought sundae fixings my mother always had on hand in our house (Stewart's/Friendly's/Breyers Ice Cream, Hershey hot fudge sauce and Reddi-Whip ). I could have also picked all of these items up at Hannaford for around the same price as that single sundae ($5).
While I thought I would have this insane childhood food memory when I dove into the paper bowl, as it's been quite some time since I've had a proper hot fudge sundae, I was left painfully disappointed. It evoked nothing. I was suffering from ice cream ambivalence.
Maybe it's because, these days, I like my vanilla to have a little more bean to it, the fudge sauce a little more depth. Overall, I just want the sundae to have a little more flavor or what's the point of leaving the house?
As I got halfway through, I just mixed the whole thing together into ice cream soup. This was the only thing that harkened back to my childhood days (where I probably had an ice cream sundae every night for 10 years straight growing up. Not only is my mother a hamburger addict, but she also--to this day--keeps at least 5 half-gallons of ice cream in her freezer at any given time). But, it wasn't done for sentimental reasons, it was done as an easier way to just get through the dish.
While I thought my plan to order simple was fool proof, it turned out not to be. 'Maybe I needed to give myself over to one of their dozens of mixed-up flavors for a better assessment of their ice cream?' I wondered, knowing that it wasn't true. It was another case of feeling that maybe I just didn't see what others loved so much about a place. But, let's be honest, their simple vanilla was...too simple. The next time a pang for Vietnamese hits and I find myself strolling over to their shop next to Veranda Noodle bar I think I'll stick with my old stand by: Mint Chocolate Chip.