Sunday, August 31, 2014

Minneapolis: Ice Cream Indoors

Worth braving the elements for.
This post is part of a series celebrating my new favorite ice cream destination, Minneapolis.

• • •

What happens for dessert-seekers in Minneapolis after the cold settles in, when the desire to be outdoors ranks about as high as the Minnesota Twins so far this season? For those months there is a dessert worthy of bundling up and trekking to: Sweet Science Ice Cream. You can't take the Skyway to get there, but all you need to do is walk a short block-and-a-half west of the Franklin Avenue Metro stop. When you see the sign that says “Verdant Tea,” you’ve arrived at your destination.

Imagine yourself inside here...
...and snow out here.
Once you enter the cozy teashop, you’ll feel warmed by the wooden tables and accents as well as the light green/sage toned walls. Though it reminds you of the interior of a lodge-y coffee shop, it more closely resembles a boutique stationary store, card shop or florist. You smile, unravel your scarf and know that this is an excellent place to steal away for a wintry evening. All that’s missing from the scene is a fireplace, but that might lean too far into the category of those ubiquitous ski lodge coffee shops. Not that it wouldn’t be nice. Still, you can thaw out by picking your poison of hot drink. After all, there’s ice cream to be eaten.

Sated (and having regained the feeling in your toes), you approach the counter, looking at the display of ice cream options, each flavor represented by a colored periodic table square and scientific abbreviation. The person at the counter tells you that though Sweet Science is a separate entity from Verdant Tea, all of the ice cream is made in-house in their backroom. Small batches—maybe ten pints each—and fresh ingredients. None of that corn syrup garbage. You weigh your options, knowing you’ll want two of the $3 minis they sell…and at least one pint you’ll buy later to take home. But all of the flavors sound good. How will you ever decide?

When was this lesson in chemistry class?
You settle on Dark Chocolate Sorbet—the staff person said she preferred this to the chocolate ice cream—and Rhubarb Cinnamon Almond. You’re presented with two plastic cups on a plate with two tiny spoons. You find a seat that looks out huge windows onto the snow-covered scene outside. You laugh a little to yourself about the pleasant absurdity of eating ice cream in this weather. And then you open the lids.

The Dark Chocolate Sorbet hits you like a gelato, packing in a concentrated flavor. It is neither creamy nor watery and tastes more like dark chocolate—actual dark chocolate—than ice cream does. Cold chocolate with mildly rough textural notes, like stone ground Mexican chocolate. Sweet rhapsody.

A few bites in, you switch to the Rhubarb Cinnamon Almond. It tastes all the more creamy following the sorbet. You recognize that the primary flavor is the cinnamon base, which creeps along the line of not quite spicy and not quite sweet. In bursts, the rhubarb jelly swirls punch out. The almond, it seems, functions primarily as a garnish, resting only on the surface layer, but is a welcome addition. It adds to the overall concept of a rhubarb crisp a la mode.

Ignore the nose prints.
After finishing, you consider trying another flavor before cursing your stomach for not being larger! But then you lean back, gazing out the window realizing you don’t have anywhere else to be. You might just hang out here until closing. Looking around, you realize this must be a great place in the warmer months, too. Big windows, some space for a few outdoor tables. So why ever go home, you think? Why not just hibernate here until the summer comes?

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Minneapolis: Ice Cream Downtown

View of the 10th Avenue Bridge from Northern Pacific Bridge Number 9.
This post is part of a series celebrating my new favorite ice cream destination, Minneapolis.

• • •

After taking in Emily Johnson/Catalyst's latest dance/performance/ installation/etc. piece, I made my way to one of the pedestrian bridges, crossing over the Mississippi River. Having been inspired by the piece, my soul felt blown up like a balloon--floating, yet fragile. And though I was a ways away from where I was staying, there was far too much electricity in the air for me to simply go to sleep. I needed to walk around, see the earth in motion, live ice cream.

Très chic, oui?
Just east of Gold Medal Park stands Izzy's Ice Cream, a scoop shop that also houses the production facilities for the cafe of the same name in neighboring St. Paul. The tall white block of a building has a minimalist, IKEA charm, a style that distinguishes it from the oldey-timey 50's music scoop shoppes and the sometimes cluttered, sometimes pastel cozy ice cream cafes that seem to have the market cornered in America. Inside, the menu board consists of polka dots with flavor names in them, which weren't nearly as enticing as peering into their display cases where a much wider palette of colors and inspirations awaited my palate.

Polka dot menu on a flat screen.
Boasting 30 or so flavor options any given night, many old stand-bys are there, but the more adventurous will rejoice to find numerous flavors they have never seen before. With eager youngsters behind the counter offering me as many samples as I wanted--an offer I tested...they aren't bluffing!--it was a relief that they offered a sampler bowl of five mini-scoops, which amount to two or three bites each, because two-and-a-half flavors would not be enough. (This same mini-scoop tops each order and is an idea the business takes awkward pride in, having trademarked the mini-scoop as the Izzy Scoop®. It seems a little misguided to me to want to be remembered for one's top scoop being small than, say, having a superior product, but I'm no businessman.) Though these five tiny scoops were somewhat clumsily piled in the same bowl--as opposed to side by side on a dish as to not contaminate one another, something I expected from such a style-conscious business--I ate it fast enough to preserve the sanctity of each flavor. And, ultimately, it was taste and not style that made this Izzy's experience memorable.

Modern building in
an industrial neighborhood.
Of the numerous flavors I tried, most were above average, but none were as great as these three: Mexican Chocolate Fiesta, Swedish Garden Party and Church Elderberry. Mexican Chocolate Fiesta was not as spicy as many Latino-themed chocolates, choosing instead to make cinnamon the dominant spice. To make the flavor even more memorable, a hint of orange lingered in the flavor. Swedish Garden Party had an eggy, custard-y base, housing a raspberry swirl and gingerbread. I've no idea what made this Swedish--why not lingonberries?--but this cultural confusion didn't stop me from ordering it a second time. (Note: Supposedly the base is elderflower.) Church Elderberry boasts the crisp freshness of a fruit sorbet in an ice cream flavor. The sharp sweet-and-tart combo of raspberries, blackberries, strawberry, elderberry and blueberry ranks this flavor among the best fruit ice creams I've ever eaten.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Minneapolis: Ice Cream from the Market

View northwest from the Guthrie's Endless Bridge.
This post is part of a series celebrating my new favorite ice cream destination, Minneapolis.

• • •

During Saturdays on the riverfront, throngs of people make their way to the Mill City Farmers Market. Tucked between the Guthrie Theatre and the Mill City Museum (a stone's throw from Izzy's Ice Cream) market-goers can buy produce, eat delicious food and become frustrated by Salty Tart Bakery's elusive, always sold-out stuffed brioche. And while they're in the area, market-goers can also enjoy the riverfront by day, walking along the Mississippi, trekking across one of the two pedestrian bridges or taking in the view from above on the Guthrie's "Endless Bridge." But after enjoying the summer sun, a market-goer will need to cool down.

Before the dripping mess.
Perusing the flavors at the Sonny's Ice Cream Cart, I knew I was in good hands. After trying some samples, I wondered if those hands had been touched by the divine. After eating a triple scoop bowl, piled high and dripping over the edges, I wondered where I might wash my hands...but never mind the scars of battle. On to the flavors!

Looking down at
Mill City Farmer's Market.

Downtown in background.
I knew immediately I wanted a scoop of rhubarb sorbet. Having grown up in the south where the ground doesn't get cold enough, rhubarb continues to feel like a special treat for me. Tangy and sweet, this icy scoop reminded me why. Next, I chose a scoop of cantaloupe-lime sorbet. The sour lime overshadowed almost any trace of the cantaloupe, but it was so blissfully refreshing I didn't care. My favorite of the bunch. And my final choice was crème brûlée. This flavor was eggy and rich, complete with some crunchy bits of burnt sugar, adding a touch of caramel flavor.

Luckily, the market isn't the only place to find Sonny's. They have a brick-and-mortar location and, according to Cafe Crema's website (which is far more informative about locations than Sonny's seemingly dormant website), Sonny's ice cream cart can also be found at the Kingfield Farmer's Market and downtown at 8th & Nicollet Mall "on sunny days."

View north from the Endless Bridge.
View looking northeast.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Minneapolis: Ice Cream Near the Parks

The Franklin Ave. location of Sebastian Joe's.
This post is part of a series celebrating my new favorite ice cream destination, Minneapolis.

• • •

When a city gets so cold during the winter that it necessitates the creation of the Skyway System for people to move from building to building in order to avoid being outdoors, you can wager residents have numerous ways to relish the warmer months. Indeed, wandering Minneapolis in June, it was no wonder why people would choose to live here. An immaculately clean downtown area with modern-looking skyscrapers and plenty of greenery, the Mississippi River cuts through the middle with a gorgeous waterside park to enjoy, right near the famed Guthrie Theater.

Minneapolis Sculpture Garden.
Two of the most popular (and most worthy of a tourist’s time) outdoor attractions are Minnehaha Falls and the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden. The former, a light rail stop or two north of the airport, is a 193-acre park area surrounding the largest waterfall to feed into a river that leads to the Mississippi; the latter is an 11-acre garden that is part of the Walker Art Center at the western edge of the diamond that is downtown Minneapolis. Another fun activity is renting a kayak at Lake Calhoun and paddling around a chain of lakes. Conveniently, each of these attractions are near places serving Sebastian Joe’s ice cream.

Minnehaha Falls.
Offering a rotating assortment of over 100 flavors, Sebastian Joe’s has all its bases covered, from classics from the ice cream canon, to scoops with tons of mix-ins, to imaginative flavors that might not exist anywhere else. Take for example my first sampling, which I treated myself to after traipsing around Minnehaha Falls for well over an hour.* While dipping my feet in the Mississippi had a rejuvenating effect on my epidermis, eating a bowl of Vanilla Basil ice cream topped with some Raspberry Chocolate Chip washed away any dust that had collected on my soul. The vanilla blended with the basil in a way that was refreshing and slightly herby without being savory, all while tinting the ice cream a light shade of green. And each bite of the Raspberry Chocolate Chip had seedy evidence of real fruit having been used, plus the spare use of the chocolate chip (or chocolate covered raspberry seeds?) added just the right touch of sweetness to balance out the light tarty effect of the ice cream. I’ve had a lot, but I can’t remember a Raspberry Chocolate Chip better than Sebastian Joe’s. I went back and forth in my mind, but I couldn’t decide which of the two flavors I liked better. All I knew was I needed to return to Sebastian Joe’s before my time in Minneapolis was done.

*Sebastian Joe’s ice cream is served at Sea Salt Eatery, a seasonal stand featured on numerous best-of-Minneapolis lists that has lines out the door for its fish tacos. Luckily, the ice cream line is separate on the opposite side.

Images from kayaking the chain of lakes connected to Lake Calhoun.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Minneapolis Ice Cream Week

View of downtown from a Metro platform.
I never thought I'd see the day Boston/Cambridge was dethroned from being my favorite destination for ice cream. But after eating my way through Minneapolis's ice cream gauntlet during a short stay this summer, I couldn't deny the numbers: four(!) blog-worthy frozen dessert distributors, each offering something different. I'll have to go back again (and again) and try each place many more times to authoritatively pick a favorite, but the easy answer is you can't lose.

This week I will celebrate Minneapolis as my new favorite ice cream destination with four entries:

Minneapolis: Ice Cream for the Parks
Minneapolis: Ice Cream from the Market
Minneapolis: Ice Cream Downtown
Minneapolis: Ice Cream Indoors

Minneapolis Sculpture Park.

From the top of Minnehaha Falls.

Target Field.
The park around Minnehaha Falls.

Minneapolis Sculpture Park.
Minnehaha Falls,
where the falls lead to
the Mississippi River.