Thursday, April 23, 2015

York Castle Caribbean Ice Cream

Despite R.E.M.'s protestations, I have found a reason to go back to Rockville.

Most people don't find themselves in the situation I was in: I'd already sampled ten ice cream flavors and was forcing myself to exercise restraint to keep from sampling more. Such wanton accumulation of one-time use plastic spoons, tsk tsk...and it was Earth Day. But with so many interesting flavors at the Jamaican-owned, tropical-themed York Castle, it was easy to fall into that deliciously indulgent trap, especially when the young man behind the counter was so friendly and enabling. (He was great! We talked about hockey, traveling and more!)

Adventurous eaters will want to explore the handful of totally unfamiliar flavors like Caribbean cherry, lucuma, and mamey sapote. Other exotic flavors are recognizable, but not usually as ice cream, like lychee, guava and soursop. Then some are more familiar, but are far from being same old, same old when York Castle makes them: the milkfat in their mango ice cream doesn't dilute the intensely authentic flavor and when they make ginger ice cream, it is spicy! York Castle also features a secondary list of flavors from the ice cream canon, which I did not even sample. (There's that restraint I was talking about.)

I somehow narrowed my selection down to four flavors. First ginger, which sizzled in my nasal cavity. Next was passion fruit, as tart as hoped. Then came Caribbean cherry, a berry flavor (possibly my Puerto Rican favorite, acerola) whose sweet tartness cut through the milkfat. And last was mango, whose texture and taste were like biting into a hunk of the namesake fruit. Usually better as gelato or sorbet, this was the best mango ice cream I've ever had. (I was sorry to see that they were out of lychee, which serves as yet another reason to go back.)

If you ever find yourself in Rockville, Maryland, or if you are in D.C. and feel like a trip to the 'burbs, don't miss York Castle Caribbean Ice Cream. They may not have a website or an official Facebook page, but you can taste how they put those dollars into the product instead of marketing.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Bobtail Year 2: Butterscotch Peanut Brittle

April is month eleven of Bobtail Year 2, during which I receive two pints of homemade ice cream a month from Bobtail.

• • •

Peanut brittle is better than any form of peanut butter. The lingering nutty legume-y flavor and the crunch of whole peanuts far exceeds that of crunchy peanut butter. These qualities are good enough on their own, but enrobe those peanuts in a sugary, caramel-colored, hard to bite, sticky to chew brittle and you have a time-tested dessert that surpasses other salty-sweet trend desserts.

What a fine place to find inspiration for an ice cream flavor. If the goal was to achieve all of the adjectives I've used in the previous paragraph, the ice cream makers at Bobtail can sleep easy tonight for a job well done. From first bite, I started feeling premature sadness for the day this flavor was no longer in my freezer. Rationing it out will be an exercise in discipline.

Saying this is no small compliment. I come from the land of peanuts. Indeed, if I were allowed a final meal from a single place, I would want mine to come from Virginia Diner, ending it with a slice of their warm peanut pie with ice cream on the side. This ice cream flavor captures that moment...without the grim "final meal, about to die" thing.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Freezer Favs: FatBoy's Key Lime Pie-wich

While this blog is primarily a fan of local scoop shops, it acknowledges that sometimes a person just wants to stay in for the night. That being said, this is one of my Freezer Favorites.

• • •

Being a dessert blogger, I am often asked about my favorite [fill in the blank]. Occasionally I'm stumped, as is the case whenever folks ask me a less-readily-available member of the dessert canon: "Where is the best key lime pie?" Living in the often frozen Chicago climate where tropical desserts are rarely in season, I'm afraid my key lime pie palate is unrefined.

I've had the dessert enough times to know it can be bright green or off-white. It can be sweet-sour or mouth-puckering sour. It can be covered in whipped cream or not. And it is made with a graham cracker crust. It can be many things, but whenever I've ordered it, what I am served rarely defies or surpasses my expectations, even in my trips to Florida.

Enter FatBoy Ice Cream Sandwiches, a Utah-based ice cream novelty maker whose products are available all over the U.S. Fruity, tart and rich, this is the best form of key lime pie I have consumed, besting all proper pies. Just my opinion, but key lime pie aficionados take note and give this a try.

Let's dig in deeper: What I want most out of a summer treat is a cooling sensation, and obviously ice cream accomplishes that. At the same time, I don't want something too heavy, so an ice cream novelty is the perfect size potion. At first, I started thinking about how I missed the snap of the graham cracker crust...until I realized what I was eating was making more of a flavorful contribution than a frozen graham cracker would. Trust the experts.

UPDATE: Having compared the two, FatBoy's is superior to Ciao Bella brand's Key Lime Pie gelato sandwiches. FatBoy's have a greater punch of citrus.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Bobtail Year 2: A Dream of Spring

Not pictured: cursing commuters.
March is month ten of Bobtail Year 2, during which I receive two pints of homemade ice cream a month from Bobtail.

• • •

Ah, spring. The season when Chicagoans cycle back to the beginning of the five stages of grief: denial. Usually there's a week or two of nice weather that arrives very suddenly. It starts with the sheets of ice on the sidewalks melting away into frosty puddles. Then the mounds of snow start to decrease in size, dwindling down to the permafrost layer that, by this point is several months old. Then the period known as "autumn's shame" begins, when the last bit of snow melts away, exposing all the garbage and dog poop that were left waiting beneath. And for a brief moment, all evidence points to the end of the bitter winter. Heh heh.

Witnessing this spectacle of climatory cruelty are millions of people breathing a little easier, smiling considerably more and joking about the aforementioned dog poop. To them, any full day in the thirties feels like a blessing of Biblical proportions. Once it hits 40 degrees, heavy jackets give way to light sweaters and there's some dude walking around in shorts. Optimistic individuals remark about how nice the weather is, while pessimists/Floridians say it is still cold and realists feel Cassandra-like inclinations to warn that the worst is yet to come. But first it gets better, jumping into the 50s--this year we actually entered the 70s for a day. There's a collective sigh in the city as everyone starts to think, "Maybe this is it. Maybe spring has actually arrived with the equinox."

Then we receive the biggest snow in seven weeks.

If I weren't a brick wall deflecting all emotion, this might just break me. Just in case, what were those stages Kübler-Ross says I should expect next?

It is this hope of a brighter (and warmer) day that we must consider when pondering a spoonful of Bobtail's latest flavor, A Dream of Spring, lemon ice cream with graham crackers and mixed berries. One small bite and we taste a refreshing hint of sunny citrus. The way the graham cracker dust soaks into the lemon ice cream adds a nostalgic feel that summer always evokes for those foolish enough to live this far north. And the frozen, whole berries waiting within are the perfect ice cubes for my daydream lemonade. A dream of spring, indeed. When I closed my eyes and took a bite, I almost believed it was safe to go outdoors.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Bobtail Year 2: Salted Caramel Pretzel

February was month nine of Bobtail Year 2, during which I received two pints of homemade ice cream a month from Bobtail.

• • •

Pretzels are among the finest savory foods to crossover to sweet. (Bad news: They often go soft in ice cream. Good news: The solution is covering them in chocolate before mixing them in.) Most manufacturers name their flavor chocolate covered pretzel, then foolishly choose a vanilla base instead of chocolate; a more accurate name would be vanilla-covered-chocolate-covered pretzel. In Bobtail's infinite wisdom, they have chosen a different direction, focusing on the caramel-dipped pretzel as inspiration.

The assumption around a flavor called Salted Caramel Pretzel would be that the ice cream base would be caramel-flavored. I was surprised when it wasn't, but again in their infinite wisdom, Bobtail went a different direction. It is a sweet cream ice cream with lots of runny caramel drizzled throughout. If a person were looking for the perfect ratio of caramel, this would be the example to go by. Every bite has some caramel in it, but not enough to change from the subtle sweet cream base to caramel. And the salt in the caramel is light, not overpowering. So before we've even gotten to the pretzels, this flavor is a success!

I wish there had been more pretzels mixed-in, but that's hardly a criticism anymore since I've said that about every pretzel ice cream I've ever eaten. But the pretzels that are there maintain their crunch(!) and the chocolate coating is tasty. Tasting the pretzel mix-in with the runny caramel in the sweet cream base is rapturous, which is to say something so good it turns you into an insatiable raptor.

Another fine month for Bobtail ice cream.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

X-Rated Ben & Jerry's (NSFW)

Parody of original cow and cloud image by Woody Jackson.
(c) Woody Jackson and (c) Ben & Jerry's Homemade, Inc.
***If this post is ever referenced in a job interview, please know that it was posted without Brad's knowledge by a friend who hacked into his blog.***

Though they've never shied away from a double entendre, Ben & Jerry's took offense that an adult film company has beat them at their game. Until a court order put a stop to it, interested consumers could buy DVDs from Ben & Cherry's adorned with familiar and friendly cows-and-clouds artwork and parody titles of flavors. Most articles will mention the titles Peanut Butter D-Cups, New York Fat & Chunky, Chocolate Fudge Babes and Boston Cream Thighs. What most articles won't mention are the other titles, which I managed to find (the titles, not the films): Hairy Garcia, Americone Cream, Banana Cl*t, Coconut 7 Lay-Her Bar, Everything But the...Butt and Late Night Sn*tch.

Given that Ben & Jerry's has flavors called Karamel Sutra and Schweddy Balls, my guess is the real plan was to sue the porn company into bankruptcy so Ben & Jerry's could hire their creative head to help name new flavors. And what a fun job that would be. With this mind, my friends and I have porn-ified some of the names of existing flavors:
  • Hubby's Chubby
  • Chunking the Monkey
  • S'mwh*res
  • New York Super Fudge Spunk
  • Heath's Bare Crotch
  • Coconut Seven Layer Wh*re
  • Jimmy Fallon's Late Night Shag
  • Everything but the...Nuts!
  • Boston Cream of Some Young Guy -or- Bustin' Cream Pie
  • Imagine Earl's Piece
  • Crotchy Crotch Crotch
  • Americondom Dream -or- AmeriBone Dream
  • All Ova Macadamia
  • Jamaica Me Horny
  • Red Vulva Cake
  • Banana's Spit
  • Chocolate Chip Cookie H*es
  • Dublin Astroglide
  • Black & Man
  • Country Peach Gobbler
  • From Russia with Balls
  • Mission to Marcy's Pants
  • CinnaMAN Buns -or- Cinnamon Buns on Fire Part 6: Extra Cream Filling
In case you need a list of the flavor names for reference, they are in order: Chubby Hubby, Chunky Monkey, S'mores, New York Super Fudge Chunk, Heath Bar Crunch, Coconut Seven Layer Bar, Jimmy Fallon's Late Night Snack, Everything But The..., Boston Cream Pie, Imagine Whirled Peace, Scotchy Scotch Scotch, Americone Dream, Aloha Macadamia, Jamaica Me Crazy (sorbet), Red Velvet Cake, Banana Split, Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough, Dublin Mudslide, Black & Tan, Country Peach Cobbler, From Russia with Buzz, Mission to Marzipan and Cinnamon Buns.

Good luck not thinking about any of this next time you're spooning a pint.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Flavor Battle: Chocolate Peanut Butter Swirl

Chocolate and peanut butter are not my go-to combination, but every so often I get the craving for such an ice cream. When I get the craving, I have to ask myself if I want peanut butter cup or peanut butter swirl. This week, I wanted that hardened splotch of peanut butter that takes strong hacks from a spoon to cut through. I wanted peanut butter swirl. To meet this craving, I bought two pints, both alike in dignity: Oberweis' Chocolate Peanut Butter and Baskin-Robbins' Peanut Butter with Chocolate. Here's how they matched up:

Baskin-Robbins' Peanut Butter 'N Chocolate is dark, rich, full. Eating it, the entire mouth is coated with each bite, stuck to the roof, floor and walls of your mouth. The chocolate is rich enough that the peanut butter (also rich!) doesn't completely overpower while making its presence known.

Oberweis' Chocolate Peanut Butter has both a milk chocolate flavor and appearance. It doesn't dig in deep like the Baskin-Robbins flavor, choosing instead to have the lightness of a Wendy's Frosty. The peanut butter tastes less sweetened here, though, which complements the sweeter ice cream well.

Something that both of these flavors have going for them is that they celebrate chocolate with equal acclaim to the peanut butter, instead of making the common mistake of peanut butter cup ice creams of hosting them in vanilla ice cream. (That's not peanut butter cup ice cream; that's ice cream with peanut butter cups in it.)

In the end, I liked trying both and seeing how different the exact same flavor could be. I encourage you to do the same! But there can only be one winner, and that was Baskin-Robbins, whose flavor was decadent like fudge topping, filling the entire mouth with flavor.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Mast Brothers' Goat Milk Chocolate

Go(a)t milk?
This week, I walked into Hannah's Bretzel to studiously examine their chocolate wall. As expected, this thorough analysis resulted in a purchase, this time a brand they've only recently added to the wall.

Mast Brothers are Brooklyn-based chocolate makers whose products have ingredients lists that are short and exciting. On the shorter side, you have any of their origin bars, whose ingredients lists include only cacao and cane sugar--proof that this company is legit. Over on the exciting end was my recent purchase, the Goat Milk bar, a dark chocolate bar with cacao, cane sugar, goat milk powder and cocoa butter.

At once richly dark and sweetly tangy, the Goat Milk bar has joined the ranks of instant classics, destined for placement on the Desert Island List. Adding goat milk powder has solved the question of, "How can a chocolate have milk in it without sacrificing the properties of dark chocolate?"

Monday, January 5, 2015

Astro Doughnuts at the 2015 NHL Winter Classic


Though we have been to many games individually, my brother and I have been to only three Chicago Blackhawks games together. The first was Round 1, Game 5 of the 2010 Playoffs against the Nashville Predators when Patrick Kane's shorthanded tying goal with 13.6 seconds left in regulation "charted [the] course for the Cup." It was my first hockey game and turned me into an instant fan. The second was Round 2, Game 7  of the 2013 Playoffs against the Detroit Red Wings where a denied goal in the third period resulted in a near riot until Brent Seabrook clenched the series in OT. Given that both of the Cup-clenching games in our lifetimes happened during away games, my brother reasons that we probably saw the two biggest games in recent Blackhawks history to have taken place at the Madhouse on Madison, United Center. It is only fitting that our third game together take place elsewhere, and what an event it was: the annual New Year's Day NHL Winter Classic outdoor match-up. In 2015, the game took place in Washington, D.C. at Nationals Park, my second favorite ballpark after Wrigley Field.

The day began early, thanks to my brother's wise insistence that we get there with plenty of time to enjoy the pre-game festivities. We wandered around a fan zone full of giveaways (foam hockey stick hats!) and numerous shoot-the-puck challenges (long, long lines!) while a ska cover band played bouncy tunes (horns!). While the home team Washington Capitals had larger representation among the fans, there was no shortage of Blackhawks jerseys making their way through the crowd--and not just my custom "17 SECONDS" jersey. (Man, watching that video never gets old.)

The only downside of getting there early, I bemoaned, was that we wouldn't be able to try one of the places in D.C.'s burgeoning doughnut and fried chicken scene, the most notable of which seem to be Astro Doughnuts & Fried Chicken and Golden Brown Delicious. Neither were near Nats Park, anyway, but a glutton can dream. Imagine my whooping delight when my brother discovered an Astro Doughnuts & Fried Chicken food truck in the fan zone. Bless Quenneville's mustache, it was a Winter Classic miracle!

Looking at the abbreviated menu--a choice of three doughnuts and one sandwich option with multiple sauce choices--we settled on a Crème Brûlée doughnut, a Vanilla Glazed doughnut and two of the sandwiches, mine served with sriracha-mayo, both served on a savory doughnut (read: fried dough with no sweetening glaze). The Crème Brûlée was an obvious winner, featuring burnt sugar coating the top of a stylish square doughnut and a tasty custard filling. (Astro's style and full menu remind me of NYC's fabulous Doughnut Plant, where they also feature square doughnuts with filling, plus Crème Brûlée and PB&J doughnuts.) Speaking with southern-born authority, the fried chicken was excellent, though I wish I'd have spiced up the savory doughnut bun with the Old Bay seasoning they offered. I'd eat at their food again without hesitation and will definitely want to try the other flavors, savory and sweet. And, hopefully, I can try Golden Brown Delicious next time I'm in D.C.

The rest of our Winter Classic experience was incredible, up until the very end when it came crashing down like so many complimentary seat cushions being thrown onto a baseball from the stands. But other than that slight, it was a great third game in my brother and I's run of fantastic Chicago Blackhawks experiences together. Go Hawks!

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Freezer Favs: Denali's Bear Claw

Exit, in pursuit of bear.
While this blog is primarily a fan of local scoop shops, it acknowledges that sometimes a person just wants to stay in for the night. That being said, this is one of my Freezer Favorites.

• • •

Pick up any ice cream brand that distributes half gallon sizes and you'll discover they have some variation of Moose Tracks, be it the real thing or a knockoff variation aligning itself with a different quadruped. One can tell the "real thing" by the distinct Moose Tracks logo, which stays the same no matter which company is making it. This logo is trademarked to Denali Flavors ice cream, the Michigander brand that originated the flavor seemingly inspired by the appearance of mud on snow after a certain antlered animal's amblings. The company licenses the Moose Tracks name and ingredients to numerous dairies and labels. The same is true, though to a much lesser extent, of a few other of Denali's flavors, including Caramel Caribou, the first triple caramel ice cream I ever encountered. But one of Denali's flavors is greater than them all. It is in fact my favorite of half gallon flavors, a rare flavor I do not grow impatient with when it lingers longer in my freezer than the typical two-or-three time use pint.

Denali's Bear Claw is a dark chocolate ice cream with a caramel swirl and chocolate covered cashews. As I've said many times before, most chocolate ice cream does not taste like chocolate; it tastes like chocolate ice cream, essentially cocoa powder in cream. This flavor serves its function, but doesn't scratch the chocolate itch we chocolate connoisseurs are known to have. So when one finds an ice cream that defies this expectation, offering a darker, richer flavor, it is worthy of note. Bear Claw is one of these ice cream flavors. And layered in are sticky caramel swirls to add some counterpoint to the dark chocolate melody, punctuated by the percussive texture of the salty-sweet chocolate covered cashews. I really wish this flavor were licensed as widely as Moose Tracks because it deserves a wider audience.

Denali's Bear Claw, I salute you.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Spain Exp'ained: Part 3

Not pictured: Carrot and Mandarin.
In Part 2, I discussed the history of Madrid and pastry. This time, I'll talk about the art of Madrid and gelato.

Retiro Park.
While the Museo Nacional del Prado seems to be Madrid's most famous art museum, from all I read it focused on art I don't care about: portraits of posed rich people, devotional pictures of deifically-rendered saints and biblical figures being lit by the heavens whilst suffering or being blessed. But the museum was free from 6 to 8 that particular day, just enough time for me to rush in to see the works of two artists who differed from the rest of the pack. Hieronymus Bosch did some paintings that look like what Dali would have made were he an evangelical Catholic at his peak. Surreal and whimsical, but at times a little creepy. Most notable is "The Garden of Earthly Delight," a triptych which depicts heaven, an overindulgent earth and hell, which kind of resembles Monty Python animation. Also featured there were some works by Francisco de Goya. He did some paintings of war that, rather than simply depicting spotless heroics, show the inhumane moments of battle, "El Tres de Mayo" especially. He also did the nauseating/haunting painting of "Saturn Devouring his Son" and the striking painting "The Dog."

Equipo Crónica's Espectador de
espectadores. Max Ernst's Red Birds.
Oskar Schlemmer's costumes
for Triadisches Ballett.
More my speed than the Prado was the modern art Museo Reina Sofia, which I went to a different day. This was the attraction that most excited me about Madrid and it certainly held up. It featured some classics (most notably Picasso's "Guernica," along with a lot of Dali and Miro), some lesser-knowns and some up-and-comers. I was excited that they also had some of the dance costumes Oskar Schlemmer designed during the Bauhaus movement, something I'd seen video of in theatre history class. A nice mix of mediums, complete with intriguing head scratchers and obvious masterpieces. Plenty of forgettable things and pretentious b.s. too, just to keep them honest. With four floors in three connected buildings, I was arted out when I left at 7:30. Adjacent to the museum is Retiro Park, whose gorgeous grounds deserved more time for exploration than I left in my day.

Museums are great and all, but the finest work of art I experienced in Madrid was the extraordinary gelato at Giangrossi. I was bummed they didn't have the 40 flavors I'd heard they had, but with 15 or so to choose from I still had trouble deciding. The best two flavors I had were Zanahoria y Mandarina (carrot and mandarin; a citrus blast with a clean aftertaste) and Mascarpone de Frutos Rojos (mascarpone with berries; a subtle base with a tart punch of berries swirled in). The other two flavors were Dulce de Leche (which was sweet sweet sweet and carmelly) and Chocolate con/with Cookies (deep dark chocolate). 

Friday, December 26, 2014

Spain Exp'ained: Part 2

Long lines and a fancy pink sign.
Sculpture in Puerta del Sol.
I began my first morning in Madrid by heading to Puerta del Sol on the Metro. I was running late for my walking tour, so I didn't check out the square. Instead, I was rushed to Chocolateria San Gines for their famed churros con chocolate, which they've served since 1894. I thought they were just okay, but that's probably the chocolate snob in me and the budding doughnut aficionado--churros of course being another culture's interpretation of fried dough. For a better chocolate experience, I'd recommend nearby Valor, where I had an exquisite, thick-as-fondue chocolate-orange drink. (Based on appearance, the churros seem about the same as Chocolateria San Gines.)

Plaza Mayor.
My free three-hour tour, given by SANDEMANs New Europe, began at Plaza Mayor which was in the process of becoming a Christmas market. (Throughout my November trip, this was a theme: Decorated areas that might look spectacular lit up, look a bit anachronistic with the unlit, skeletal beginnings of Christmas decorations exposed by daylight.) We learned that the square once carried out some brutal torture techniques below street level, using a wheel to tighten a rope around a victim's neck and drive a screw into the back of their neck. Other highlights from the tour:
  • We reviewed eight monarchs worth of history from Felipe I to Carlos II. There was a lot of inbreeding from marrying their cousins, resulting in an impotent, deformed and mentally disabled Carlos II.
  • The Spanish Inquisition (which went on for 300 years or so, amounting in the deaths of around 3,000 people and the persecution of countless others) is a primary reason ham and pork are such a point of pride in Spanish culture. When the non-pork-eating Jews and Muslims all converted (or "converted") to avoid persecution under the Inquisition, they decided the best way to prove they were true Catholics was to hang a pig leg in the window. These legs are ubiquitous in modern-day Madrid.
The Royal Palace.
  • Many streets in Madrid feature descriptive pictures of the street names accompanying the street sign to aid the illiterate populace from an earlier time.
  • Though the size of the grounds do not compare to Versailles, the palace itself is the largest in western Europe. The Royal Palace tour, which I did later, was a somewhat quick experience for the cost, but the there was still plenty of awe at the decadent rooms within. Nice views in the courtyard too.
  • We learned about Spain's recent history under Juan Carlos, who in the 1970s used his royal power to turn Spain into a democracy! There was a military coupe a couple years or so later, but it failed, bringing even more public adoration to Juan Carlos. In recent years, however, he has been criticized for his spending during rough economic times.
Napolitana de crema.
After all that walking and book larnin', I had earned a tasty treat. And the place to do that was right back where I started: Plaza del Sol. After a dinner of pinchos (little appetizers served on a slice of toasted French bread), I grabbed pastries at La MallorquinaOf the things I had there, I will point you toward two. First, the napolitana de crema, a croissant with custard inside, but not runny custard like you find in doughnuts. In addition to being thick like bechamel or cream cheese baked into a muffin, the filling was subtly sweet while still bring dense, like an Italian pastry filling. The croissant was flaky with a thin and sweet brush of glaze. Second, I'd recommend the Pringles-shaped almond cookies called tejas. There tastiness is like the buttery cookie part of an M&M cookie, tejas are crispy on the outside, while having a chewier coconut macaroon consistency inside. They might not look like much, but they're great!

In Part 3, we'll talk about art and Madrid's best gelato.