Back in October of 2012, my husband and I heard Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein speak to an audience of New Yorkers. The stars of the affectionately-hipster-satirizing IFC show Portlandia were asked what trendy import from Portland we New Yorkers could expect in the immediate future. Fred answered that weirdly flavored, super-popular, hyper-local, small-batch artisanal ice cream didn’t really seem like a big thing here in NYC, and that Portlanders were waiting in block-long lines for flavors like goat cheese-marionberry-habanero at purveyor Salt & Straw and many others around the city. “Ice cream is on its way,” he had declared.
Like a self-consciously ironic plot line straight out of Portlandia, he turned out to be right, off-handedly predicting NYC’s next big dessert trend. Is Fred Armisen some kind of soothsayer? Or are we just that predictable? American culinary ingenuity doesn’t always start here, the way we’d like to think it does. Small town shops across the country, like Jeni’s in Columbus, Ohio, have been doing this sort of thing for years, and it seems New Yorkers were ready for a deluge of some high-brow ice cream of their own.
Stalwart shops like Sundaes and Cones in the East Village (and before that Bay Ridge) and Cones in the West Village, both with impressive rosters of unique flavors, had been open for decades, but the wave really began about a year before Fred’s pronouncement, with the opening of Ample Hills Creamery in Prospect Heights in the spring of 2011. The shop, with addictive flavors like Salted Crack Caramel and Bubblegum, was so popular it had to close for a bit soon after opening in order to re-stock its ice cream supply. Ample Hills also had the pedigree of being one of the only shops in the country at the time to produce all of its ice cream, including the base, entirely from scratch, on-site. Very Portland-esque, indeed. The shop is now expanding to Gowanus, the site of their new production facility, and has an outpost at Brooklyn Bridge Park as well as a new cookbook.
I guess Fred saw the writing on the wall? After his pronouncement, Oddfellows Ice Cream Co., with flavors like Chorizo Caramel Swirl and Cornbread, opened in Williamsburg in the spring of 2013 and recently expanded to the East Village. Here are three more artisan ice cream shops, all opened since last summer, the last two just within the the last month-and-a-half.
1. Davey’s Ice Cream, East Village According to Grubstreet, David Yoo, owner of Davey’s Ice Cream is a former graphic designer whose true calling was ice cream. He quit his job and enrolled in Penn State’s ice cream short course. (Incidentally, it’s the same course taken by Ample Hills founder Brian Smith, who was a Sci-Fi writer in his pre-ice cream life.) Per EV Grieve, David, like Smith, produces all of the ice cream from scratch right in the his tiny shop and with local ingredients like Battenkill Valley Creamery cream and milk. There’s a cast of permanent flavors like Strong Coffee and Mexican Vanilla Bean as well as a handful of rotating, experimental flavors. I missed out on Ultra Babka from a few weeks ago (the babka is supplied by Moishe’s Bake Shop, a block away-not sure you can get more local than that), but enjoyed the below super-chunky Brunch! flavor filled with brioche French toast, cinnamon-maple syrup and coffee-glazed bacon.
2. Morgenstern’s Finest Ice Cream, Lower East Side Started by restaurant alum Nick Morgenstern, who’d amassed an ice cream-lover following thanks to a cart outside Fort Greene’s General Greene restaurant, this parlor kicks things up far higher than a notch. A few nights ago I observed NYC’s own “Mr. Chocolate” Jacques Torres sampling the Durian Banana ice cream. He remarked that it had “a very distinct durian flavor.” Durian is a Southeast Asian fruit often banned from public spaces because of the offensive odor it produces when its studded exterior is cut open. Also on the menu: American Egg ice cream, a Jungle Bird cocktail sorbet and dozens of other flavors. My husband was angling for the Szechuan Peppercorn Chocolate. The ice cream is eggless and low in sugar (for flavor-not health-reasons, per Grubstreet), but doesn’t taste discernibly less rich or flavorful than standard ice cream. The below Chocolate Oat ice cream in a waffle cone was a winner.
3. Hay Rosie Craft Ice Cream, Carroll Gardens I wasn’t 100 percent sold on the encompassing nature of this trend until I walked over to this brand new shop two weeks after it first opened. It was around 3 p.m. on a beautiful early summer day-in other words, prime ice cream time. The door was locked and a sign hanging outside the shop read “sold out,” invoking the great Ample Hills rush of 2011 and proving that New Yorkers have a seemingly insatiable appetite for uniquely crafted small-batch ice cream. Shop owner Stef Ferrari, like Yoo and Smith, is also an alum of the Penn State ice cream course, and churns out everything-from-scratch eggless flavors like Sriracha popcorn, which is distinctively hot, and the satisfying Bananas Ferrari (bel0w), with brown butter, Muscovado sugar, bananas, salt and malt. Her focus is on manufacturing, with the shop functioning as a tasting room on weekends.