Friday, May 15, 2015

Houston's Best Ice Cream

Top: Beef rib at Killen's Barbecue, flags, George H. W. Bush statue in airport
Bottom: Houston Astros game, fajita relleno at Escalante's, NASA
When many people think of Texas food, they think of barbecue and Tex-Mex. On a recent visit to Houston, I learned Texans also have a unique sweet tooth. With doughnuts, the Houston pallet is in touch with its childhood: they really, really like using
cereal as a topping. (For a solid traditional doughnut, try Christy's Donut Kolaches. Their glazed yeast donut, old fashioned and chocolate devil's food were all great. Or try the Shipley's on Ella.) With ice cream, Houston has their noses pointed straight up, offering some intriguing but truly strange flavors, like fennel-citrus, that make my adventurous side seem pretty tame. They also had two vanilla options: vanilla and Mexican vanilla, which uses a different bean. All in all, Houston was an unusual tour de food, but not without some noteworthy ice cream flavors.*

Best Overall & Best Original Flavor:
Cloud 10 Creamery's Lime Ceylon
Located in Rice Village, a shop-heavy section of town that is perfect for strolling, Cloud 10 boasts the strangest of Houston's ice cream flavors, the best of which was Lime Ceylon. This flavor mixed the sour notes of lime with the bitter notes of tea, resulting in a soft-toned flavor that doesn't bite the consumer with its sharper notes so much as nibbles and nuzzles their taste buds.

Best Flavor with an Unusual Mix-in:
Hank's Moo Moo-licious
Vanilla ice cream with hot fudge and chocolate-covered Rice Krispies. I've been unimpressed when other places have attempted flavors with puffed (often soggy) rice, but Hank's made me a believer! Smooth ice cream with a sharp crunch. Though it has a cow-themed name, I made a pig of myself eating this flavor. Word has it that Beyoncé is a fan of their product, too.

Fat Cat Creamery.
Best Twist on a Classic:  
Fat Cat Creamery's Buttermilk Strawberry
This is a seriously rich strawberry ice cream. Chock-full of butterfat and with a punch of strawberry, this flavor was my favorite of Fat Cat's. (To be fair, their selection had a lot of boozy flavors, which do not appeal to me. According to the website, even this flavor has gin in it.) Seriously, though, Fat Cat's Buttermilk Strawberry goes to 11.

Best Chocolate Flavor 
Cloud 10 Creamery's Nutella with Marshmallows
Though my friend Jon and I agreed that we didn't taste even a hint of Nutella, he seconded my suggestion that both the texture of the marshmallows and the cocoa powder flavor of the ice cream made the flavor into scrumptious frozen hot chocolate. In a world of many lackluster chocolate ice creams, this unique effect was certainly memorable and worth trying.

Best Logo: Hank's
Just look at it: a waffle cone in the shape of Texas, a playful yet classic cursive script and an ice cream cone for an apostrophe. On their shirts (which come in white, black and purple), the script is purple, producing a New Orleans purple-and-gold look. This logo is a thing of beauty. If there had been a purple shirt in medium, I would wear the heck out that thing.

Best Flavor Names: Eatsie Boys
It should come as no surprise that a food spot that takes inspiration from the Beastie Boys incorporates clever wordplay into their flavor names, many of which incorporate Beastie references. Take a look. Sadly, they were closed. Possibly permanently, based on the hour and an exterior sign that appeared to have been taken down. But maybe they're still open? If I had more time in Houston, I'd stop by again because these flavors sound worth trying.

*Not all of the places I tried ranked or are listed.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Carmen's Italian Ice


Comparing Rockville's Carmen's Italian Ice to the New Jersey-based chain Rita's is no stretch. They both serve:

  • Jersey-style Italian ice, so finely cut that there's no crunch or even chewing required. The cold just slides down your throat. You may need to chew certain flavors, though, because some of them contain bits and chunks of actual fruit!
  • frozen custard from a soft-serve machine. It is denser, richer and creamier than soft-serve ice cream.
  • a concoction called a gelati (not to be confused with gelati, the plural of the Italian word gelato) which sandwiches Italian ice between a bottom and top layer of frozen custard. The combination of frozen custard and Italian ice doesn't intuitively make sense on paper, but in practice is a delicacy.

But Carmen's sets itself apart in a few important ways:

  • The long list of ice flavors they have available. Their website lists sixty-three varieties and, as the picture at the top shows, they had twenty-six when I visited. Though Rita's lists more on their website, your average franchise only has maybe eight to sixteen flavors available. 
  • A longer list of frozen custard flavors they rotate between--eleven--as compared to Rita's six.
  • A wider and more interesting range of flavor types than Rita's, from horchata (sadly, not featured the day I went), to sour snozzberry, to strawberry malt, to coconut (with real coconut in it), to spicy mango and more.
After some introspective sampling and conversation with the friendly cashier, I settled on two unique flavors: the tangy and sweet Strawberry-Lemon and Birch Beer, the similar-to-root-beer-but-different beverage that I've encountered in Pennsylvania and Maryland. (Wikipedia tells me it "is most commonly found in the Northeastern United States, and Newfoundland in Canada.") The gelati was mostly frozen custard, but the ice was the stand-out ingredient. When I went back for more, I skipped the custard and got the ice all buy itself. Refreshing and recommended!

- - -

Another fine option for frozen dessert in Rockville is York Castle Caribbean Ice Cream.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Flavor Battle: DC Doughnuts and Fried Chicken

The spread at Astro Doughnuts.
I was already aware of the chicken and doughnut trend that had hit Washington, D.C. Indeed, when I was in the city for the 2015 NHL Winter Classic, I was able to sample the delights of one of the two market leaders, Astro Doughnuts. Wowed, I vowed to taste the competition, GBD, when next I made my way to the nation's capital. How pleased I was that the opportunity came so soon. The battle was on!

GBD (Golden Brown Delicious)
I arrived in D.C. on my most recent trip via a Megabus into Union Station. Though the temptation was high to go to Dangerously Delicious Pie's Union Station location, I did not pass go and took the Metro straight to Dupont Circle to try GBD (Golden Brown Delicious). While I arrived knowing what chicken doughnut sandwich I would order, The Luther, their doughnuts were another story because of their rotating selection. Looking over their options, I was surprised at how childish the options that day seemed--Funfetti? After less deliberation than I usually need, I settled on a Tres Leches cake doughnut and a Nutella Glazed yeast doughnut.

GBD in Dupont Circle.
I sat at GBD's bar and sampled my doughnuts while I waited for my main course. The Tres Leches had some nice coconut flavor (for some reason), but was a bit limp. It was more impressive than the Nutella Glazed, though, which despite boasting hazelnuts on top had zero Nutella flavor. I was surprised when my sandwich arrived with a huge side of fries. How many fried things could I, should I eat in one meal? The sandwich was fried chicken with two bacon strips served on a brioche doughnut bun. The bun itself was topped with a maple sauce and sprinkled with pecans. It was tasty, but not remarkably so.

Astro Doughnuts & Fried Chicken
Located near the Metro Center stop, conveniently near two of my brother and I's tourist destinations (Ford's Theatre and the International Spy Museum), the storefront location for Astro Doughnuts is much more modest than GBD's Dupont bar; it is a grab-n-go counter with a handful of sidewalk cafe tables. Their space is so small, the food is delivered up to the store counter on a dumbwaiter from a lower level.

Astro Doughnuts at the Winter Classic.
Having already tried their wonderful chicken doughnut sandwich (sriracha-mayo with lettuce and tomato) at the Winter Classic, I set my sights on trying their doughnut selection, which was far more extensive than the food truck menu from months previous. I settled on two. First, a Carrot Cake doughnut: a yeast doughnut with raisins mixed and a sweet (not especially cream cheesy) glaze. It was like a lightly fried cinnamon roll, which despite not tasting like carrot cake, left no room for complaints. Not too heavy, not too sweet.

Second, I had Boston Creme. I didn't have the highest of hopes. Long ago, Boston Creme used to be my go-to doughnut. And as time went on I continued to love the delicious custard, but years of eating cloyingly sweet chocolate glaze frosting took its toll and Boston Creme doughnuts were forsaken for the powdered sugar (or glaze) of Bavarian Creme. But when I saw Astros' square doughnut with a hole in it, I gave into its hipster charm and bought it anyway. The first thing I noticed was that the chocolate on top was a lighter color. Then when I took a bite, I realized it was because the topping was the same chocolate used on Boston Creme Pie, not the aforementioned cloyingly sweet abomination. Another plus was how light the doughnut was, like a proper Boston Creme pie's cake layers should be. This is the best Boston Creme doughnut I've ever had, restoring my faith in that particular species of doughnut.

GBD's The Luther.
Just look at that maple glaze.
Without a doubt, Astro Doughnuts & Fired Chicken is the better choice than GBD. In all categories--doughnut selection, doughnut quality--Astro has a better doughnut. As for chicken, Astro also wins for quality and for including some lettuce and tomato to add a little something fresh to the fiesta of fried food. The one thing GBD wins at is the maple sauce they drizzled over their doughnut chicken sandwich; Astro, follow their lead on this one.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Ice Cream Jubilee

Just past the outfield and over the stadium walls of Nationals Park in D.C. lies the up-and-coming Anacostia Riverwalk Trail that borders an area growing with condos and bougie food spots. Tucked among them is the inventive Ice Cream Jubilee. Over two trips and numerous sample spoons, I tried ten of the sixteen flavors on their menu board, weighing their vitality so that you, dear reader, can come prepared to order the best three flavors their large size bowl will allow. (Their flavors do rotate, but please do not fault me for being unable to review ice cream from the future. I'm working on it.)

Silence the OCD mathmetician
that wants this to be 4 x 4.
The number one flavor to try is Coconut Lychee Lime. Lychee is the dominant taste, while the lime is a hint of sour and the coconut is only experienced as the textural bits of coconut within. Though not advertised, the cool and refreshing flavor is appropriately a sorbet. (Their menu does not distinguish the ice cream from the sorbet.)

The second flavor for your bowl should be Cookies & Cookie Dough. Though the description of Oreos and Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough pieces may seem a bit simple for their menu, your tastebuds will disagree. With no shortage of both mix-ins, this flavor is like getting impatient with dunking your cookies and choosing instead to just pour your milk straight into the cookie jar and eat it with a spoon.

Clockwise from L: Coconut Lychee
Lime, Blueberry Pie, Caramel Popcorn
The previous two are far and away the best of the bunch. As for the third spot, I have no complaints about the Caramel Popcorn and Peanut Molasses, but it belongs to Honey Lavender Lemon. There is only a light floral taste, not too much, while the honey and lemon shine through most in this subtle and unique flavor. While not my go-to ingredients, this ice cream was memorable and, at the very least, worth sampling so you can taste it for yourself.

- - -

While Ice Cream Jubilee serves up tres chic scoops in D.C., don't miss Georgetown's classic ice cream shop, Thomas Sweet.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Horror-themed Ben & Jerry's Parodies

In the wake of my X-rated post on Ben & Jerry's legal dispute with an adult video company comes an R-rated slasher post.

Artwork by Frank Browning.
Made exclusively for
as featured on
The folks over at iHorror conceived of a long list of horror film-themed Ice Screams, complete with artwork for the pints. Having never been a horror buff, I'm delighted to see some I can really sink my teeth into honoring some films I enjoy, like American Psycho, The Shining, Ghostbusters and Army of Darkness. What might be even more impressive than the hilarious flavor names are the truly bizarre flavors. They range from horrifying (mint with a cherry swirl) to a tad strange (marshmallow ice cream with fruit swirls) to unexpected-and-curious (cake batter with cherry and almonds) to tasty (pumpkin ice cream with dark chocolate) to YES! TAKE MY MONEY! (Hi-C Ecto Cooler ice cream).

So go read the article. Quick, before I spoil the funny flavor names!

(I do not own any of the content (other than that linked in the first sentence), but I am promoting the iHorror article for it's shared interest with this blog. If anyone connected with iHorror or this content would like me to take any part of this down, I will.)

Monday, April 27, 2015

Lord Stanley's Cup Diddly-Umptious Bracket Bar

The Stanley Cup Playoffs are upon us. Despite some goalie drama--including a record-setting, 42-save performance in Game 1 by back-up goalie Scott Darling--the Chicago Blackhawks defeated their first round opponents, the Nashville Predators.

NBCSN is celebrating this Playoffs by sending out loftily-named chocolate bars. With the bars comes the chance of getting a silver ticket that wins PRIZES! ---------------------------------------> But those who don't get a silver ticket have another chance...another chance to win PRIZES! ------------------------------>

Each bar contains a bracket, containing one of the 32,768 possible scenarios that could play out in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Here's the randomly assigned bracket included with my bar:

With two of the series in the first round still going (Islanders vs. Capitals and Lighting vs. Detroit), my bracket is still completely plausible at the time of this post...except for the glaring error involving my Hawks losing in the first round. But have no fear! I still could win SOMETHING if the predicted winner does indeed go on to win the Cup. And surely Alex Ovechkin will live up to his potential and advance past the conference semifinals...right? Right? (Go Islanders.)

Bracket bungles aside, the actual chocolate bar was nothing to brag about...EXCEPT FOR THE FACT THAT I GOT ONE AND YOU DIDN'T! NEENER NEENER NEENER!

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.

- - -

Another fine place for frozen dessert in Rockville is Carmen's Italian Ice.

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.