Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Dole Whip at Disney's Adventureland

After a sweltering and unexpectedly life-threatening Jungle Cruise in Disneyland's Adventureland, nothing cools you down better than pineapple on pineapple. The place to sate yourself is none other than the Tiki Juice Bar (or at Aloha Isle at the Magic Kingdom) where they serve up the Dole Whip float, a dish of pineapple soft serve filled with pineapple juice. The line for this refreshing treat is never short as it has become a bit of a cult classic. Simple in concept but rarely seen elsewhere, it is worth the hype.

Don't be fooled by the lack of line -- it was closing time.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Top 5 Cookies-n-Cream Ice Creams

1.) Kopp’s Frozen Custard (Greater Milwaukee, WI) – Cookies-n-Cream
One day I will do a full post on the wonder that is Kopp’s Frozen Custard. In the meantime, the teaser is that theirs is the best Cookies-n-Cream I’ve had in my life. The bad news is, like most frozen custard places, they only do vanilla, chocolate and their flavors of the day. So Cookies-n-Cream is only available when it is one of their two special flavors of the day. I recall going to Kopp’s with my family and my aunt’s family in my youth , persuading my parents to let me order a triple scoop, finding chunks of whole Oreos within and my Dad and I being unable to finish it.

2.) Gelati Celesti (Richmond, VA) – Oreo
The bases of cookies and cream ice creams are either white (playing up the “cream” part of the name) or speckled with black cookie dust. Not this flavor, which is pure grey. The reason? The Oreos are blended completely into the base, not simply mixed in to a sweet cream base. Translation: the base tastes like Oreos, not cookies “in” cream. This explains why the flavor isn’t named Cookies-n-Cream…because it’s straight, undiluted Oreo. Gelati Celesti aren't the only ones to have this idea, but they perfected it.

3.) Golden Cow Creamery (Charlotte, NC) – Salted Oreo
I may be a foodie, but I generally find the trend of adding salt to desserts that never needed it before to be bougie nonsense. Sure, a little bit is science, but a lot bit is superfluous. But this flavor, Salted Oreo, made me eat my words and then lick the bowl. Adding salt to this Oreo ice cream created a completely new flavor, one I loved. When I ate at this spot in fall of last year, they had only been open a couple months and didn’t have enough flavors to fill their freezer yet. Once operating at full freezer capacity, I have no doubt, based on this and the others I tried, that their place on the Charlotte foodie map will be staked.

4.) Turkey Hill (grocery store) – Double Dunker
This paragraph previously appeared in “Top 5 Cookie Dough Ice Cream”
Years back, Ben & Jerry’s created Milk & Cookies, a mash-up of Cookies-n-Cream and Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough. It was simple and brilliant, but a combination not represented in grocery stores before then. Turkey Hill came up with their own twist on the idea (“Mocha ice cream swirled with chewy cookie dough and crunchy chocolate cookie swirl”) and created a superior product, which was no small effort given that Milk & Cookies ranks among one of the last of Ben & Jerry’s best flavors of recent years. Suffice to say, when a half gallon of Double Dunker is in the house it isn’t there for long. I consider it one of my Freezer Favorites.

5.) Josh & John’s (Colorado Springs, CO) - Colorado Cookies-n-Cream
A scoop shop of personal legend, I recall eating a Josh & John’s on a snowy winter day in the early 2000’s, marveling at how ice cream is good no matter the temperature and drawing in the snow on the outdoor picnic tables after. But mostly I recall their twist on Cookies-n-Cream. It was the first time I saw the base for a Cookies-n-Cream ice cream be chocolate. And, really, since the base is always ice cream, the “cream” part of cookies-n-cream is up for wider interpretation. The answer was there all along, waiting to be found. I doubt anywhere else refers to Cookies-n-Cream with a chocolate base “Colorado Cookies-n-Cream,” but I did for years because Josh & John’s was so tasty.

Friday, June 2, 2017

Top 5 Cookie Dough Ice Creams

1.) Thomas Sweet (Washington, D.C. and New Jersey) - Chocolate Chip Cookie
The best twist on Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough I’ve encountered, so good it overtakes the original. A wholly unique flavor that I have yet to see anywhere else, this ice cream base tastes like cookie dough. That’s right: unlike other cookie dough flavors, this one contains no hunks of cookie dough because the flavor is in the ice cream itself. It’s so good that I’ve blogged about it twice before. It’s like eating the dough right out of the mixing bowl, complete with a mouthful of mini-chocolate chips in each bite.

2.) Chocolate Shoppe Ice Cream (Madison, WI) – Snap O’ Lantern
Much of this paragraph previously appeared in in the autumnal entry “Snap-O-Lantern & Other Pumpkin Ice Creams.”
A perennial favorite in my annual autumnal challenge to consume as many varieties of pumpkin foods as possible. The addition of gingerbread cookie dough isn’t the only reason Snap-o-Lantern tops the list. The ice cream reminds me of my first memories of pumpkin ice cream at the Hilton Village Parlor Restaurant back home: sweet in front, pumpkin in the back, creamy all the way around. I attribute this to the gingerbread cookie dough, which excuses the ice cream from having to be all spices at once and instead to focus on being pumpkin.

3.) Oberweis (Midwest grocers/parlors)–Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough
This paragraph appeared in the ongoing Freezer Favorites series.
It may seem strange that I lean on Oberweiss for my grocery-store Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough cravings since Ben & Jerry's are the ones who put the flavor on the map. But I'm going to commit foodie-sacrilege here: Such a heavy mix-in as cookie dough bites demands a lighter ice cream. Oberweiss is a super-premium brand that makes a product that manages to be flavorful without being heavy. Creamy and light, their Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough isn't overloaded with mix-ins, but doesn't skimp either. Most bites have some cookie dough with only a few containing chocolate chips, that perfect touch of chocolate to leave semisweet lingering on the tongue after the ice cream melts away.

4.) Turkey Hill (grocery store) – Double Dunker
Years back, Ben & Jerry’s created Milk & Cookies, a mash-up of Cookies-n-Cream and Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough. It was simple and brilliant, but a combination not represented in grocery stores before then. Turkey Hill came up with their own twist on the idea (“Mocha ice cream swirled with chewy cookie dough and crunchy chocolate cookie swirl”) and created a superior product, which was no small effort given that Milk & Cookies ranks among one of the last of Ben & Jerry’s best flavors of recent years. Suffice to say, when a half gallon of Double Dunker is in the house it isn’t there for long. I consider it one of my Freezer Favorites.

5.) Ben & Jerry’s (RIP) – Oatmeal Cookie Chunk
Once Ben & Jerry’s discontinues a flavor, it is rare for them to bring it back. Oatmeal Cookie Chunk was actually the first occasion where I heard of such a thing happening. Like a cult TV show, when this flavor was discontinued, there was fan outcry, letter writing and pleading via Ben & Jerry’s online form to resurrect the dearly departed laid to rest in their Flavor Graveyard. (My girlfriend at the time was among the grieving, it having been her favorite flavor.) It had a rough-textured (oat-y?) base with chunky cookie dough and the perfect amount of fudge chunks to suggest chocolate without overwhelming the flavor. The flavor may not have lasted the second time around, but Ben & Jerry’s did drop a similar flavor is 2017: Oat of This Swirled. It's the next best thing.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Kirchhoff's Bakery in Paducah, KY

While some parts of small town America are becoming homogenized and others are dying out, some seem to thriving. The secret seems to be small business, whether breweries, an arts scene, breweries, dining foodies can appreciate, or breweries. I can only speak from a single afternoon as a tourist, but it seemed Paducah, Kentucky is one if those small towns finding its place in contemporary times. The true measure for me, of course, is the dessert scene.

Wandering Paducah’s easily walkable downtown, we passed a homemade ice cream shop, a soon-to-be-open rolled ice cream purveyor and a bakery. But Kirchhoff’s Bakery & Deli is not one of those “iced brownie with your white bread sandwich” places; it is an institution bubbling over with superior offerings, crowded with folks there for a quality lunch and delectable sweets at shockingly low prices. The only thing I didn’t like about the place was how I could never try it all in such a short trip…which, among problems, is a good one to have.

Looking in the display case, it is awfully tough to make a decision. I always like to ask the workers, who are often local authorities on what is best vs. merely popular. I was directed to the very item that had caught my eye, the Chocolate Chip Cheesecake bar, my favorite of the four desserts I purchased. The bar was a unique take on the more common cheesecake brownie, swapping in cookie bars for the brownie. Pairing of cheesecake with cookies? Of course it’s good! I started nibbling it while my friends were getting coffee and, even though I tried to pace myself, discovered the futility of trying to do so with such a delicious treat; I had scarfed it in full before my friends made it to the café table. The turkey pesto sandwich on homemade ciabatta with a cup of chili was also excellent and the price a steal. I ate my half of that before moving on to the next dessert. Additionally, we brought back two mini pies (a mere $3.50 each) which made our evening so much more delicious.

So if you find yourself in Paducah, or just passing by on I-24, stop in at Kirchhoff’s and treat yourself. You can enjoy your items there, sitting at one of the café tables out front on the market street, or you can take it with you on a walk over to the river front, enjoying the flood wall’s many historic murals. Perhaps you’ll wander over to Allen’s Music to play some of their unique and vintage stringed instruments. Or visit the National Quilt Museum, where arts and crafts are synonymous. Just know that Kirchhoff’s isn’t the only reason to stop in Paducah; the still ticking heart of small town America is there, waiting to be heard.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Gone But Not Forgotten: Endgrain in Chicago

While going through old blog posts, I happened upon a draft of a post about Endgrain, a restaurant opened by the man some credited with launching the doughnut craze in Chicago. Endgrain was my obsession for a while, even if inconvenient for carless Chicagoans not on the Brown Line. I was saddened a couple years ago when it shuttered.

Endgrain founder Enoch Simpson was more than serious; he wanted people to give doughnuts the respect they deserve. Simpson talked the talk in a Guide to Doughnut Tasting, which, excepting the two bizarre and confusing opening sentences, offers some doughy insight into Chicago's grease-gone-gourmet obsession. Simpson also walked the walk, making the best overall textured doughnut menu in the city.

At the start, there were a mere four doughnut options for customers to choose from: the Butterscotch Bacon—their one constant—and three rotating selections. On most days, there was a jelly doughnut, a chocolate doughnut and a traditional doughnut with a unique glaze, what my waitress called a "vanilla doughnut" and what I'm calling a "rogue doughnut."

The Doughscuit.
After some time, Simpson decided that, rather than jumping on the cronut bandwagon, he’d make his own doughnut hybrid: the Doughscuit, a doughnut-come-biscuit filled with crème frache. It was buttery, sweet and creamy. This was followed by an alternative takes on his creation, including the German Chocolate Doughscuit. The original Doughscuit would go on to win the FirstAnnual DonutFest in Chicago, though I personally preferred the German Chocolate variety.

Despite the Doughscuit’s accolades, I always felt the crown jewel at Simpson’s Endgrain were the jelly doughnuts, which I wrote about in my review of the best of Chicago doughnuts. Put simply, it was the perfect jelly doughnut. And now, sadly, it is gone. My second favorite doughnut at Endgrain was the Butterscotch Bacon, a rare beacon of light in the bacon-doughnut craze. Their version had a gooey butterscotch coating, topped with crispy bacon. In my visits, I also tried Mochanut, Blackberry Peppercorn, Peaches 'n Cream, Nutella Milkstout, Chocolate Turtle and Salted Caramel.

Endgrain, you are gone, but not forgotten!

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Marry, Boff, Kill: Doughnuts in Austin, TX

While in Austin, a small group of people with diverse genders and sexual orientations played the game "Marry, Boff, Kill." In this game, three subjects (usually people) are chosen within a particular category and then you pass judgment on which of these three you would marry if given the option, then whom you would boff, and finally which you would be sentence to death. For example, in my previous entry about Austin ice cream, it's clear I'd "marry" Dolce Neve; I'd also "boff" Lick Honest Ice Creams and "kill" Amy's.

Got the game down? Good! Because it's time for "Marry, Boff, Kill: Austin Doughnut Edition"!

Though billed as a hybrid of a croissant and a brioche, La Patisserie's CroBrio felt more to be like a doughnut/brioche mixture. The flaky layers one associates with a croissant weren't present, though nothing was lacking in my enjoyment. It was buttery, doughy, chewy and delicious. The chocolate on top was deep like a ganache. The cream (though billed as being a peanut butter cream) was a light vanilla bean delight. The type of CroBrio being offered changes, but I doubt my extreme desire for the product would. 'Til death do us part.

I couldn't resist the urge to try the over the top options at Gourdough's--pronounced like "gordo," the Spanish word for fat--ultimately settling on the Squealing Pig. It was a doughnut piled high with strawberry jalapeno jelly, candied jalapenos, bacon and cream cheese icing. The entire experience was messy, not to mention too sweet. (The cream cheese icing was far more icing than cream cheese.) I felt gross after eating Gourdough's, but I still feel some guilty desire to try a few more of their flavors on the side, even if my heart belonged to La Patisserie.

Though the hours make this traditional doughnut shop intriguing (7:30pm-noon), the product was not memorable. It appears on most lists of "Austin's must-try doughnuts," but I failed to see why. I love a good spot for traditional doughnuts and, while this one was passable, it wasn't notable nor a must-try, especially for a visitor with limited time on their hands.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Dolce Neve in Austin (and Houston), TX

Off the tourist-beaten path of Austin's South Congress Avenue and tucked amongst the foliage of South 1st is a cozy gelato shop called Dolce Neve. Translated as "sweet snow," Dolce Neve finds the happy medium of traditional gelato's simplicity (scoops that emphasize a single flavor) and contemporary gelato's complexity (which combines many flavors and/or mix-ins, eliminating any subtlety). They do this by exploring lighter flavor agents, finding ways to make them shine in a new context, rather than simply recreating members of the ice cream canon in gelato form. And they are good--so good--at what they do. For example:

Pear and Chocolate Chip Sorbet - This sorbet somehow has the mouthfeel of an actual pear. And the chocolate chips, which sounded out of place to my brain, are a nice kiss of sweet to make this flavor a little more dessert-y than it would otherwise be. Refreshing, both in flavor and concept.

Pecan Honey - Nuts (hazelnuts, chestnuts pine nuts) and edible seeds (almonds, pistachios, coconut) have made for winning gelato flavors. Still, others in this group (cashews, walnuts, macadamia, pecans) are regularly ignored by gelato, while commonly being used as mix-ins to ice cream, rarely being given their own flavor. Sit back and let this flavor make right this longstanding gaffe.

Chocolate and Candied Orange Peel - Mixing in other ingredients to an intense chocolate gelato usually results taking away some of the flavor's intensity. The orange peel here adds a new level. It isn't quite a chocolate orange, but has a burst of sweet that enhances the richness of the chocolate.

I had other notable flavors in addition to the above--Frommage Blanc with Apple Curd, Dark Chocolate with Sea Salt, and Ricotta, Pistachio & Honey--but no need to worry if the ever-rotating menu doesn't include any of these I've mentioned. Each visit to Dolce Neve will offer a new opportunity for exploration. Who knows what you'll find when you stop in?


Go and taste the "sweet snow."

- - -

I would be remiss to not mention about the elephant in the room: When one hears about Austin ice cream, usually they hear about Amy's, a local made-to-order model a la Cold Stone which emphasizes mix-ins over its mediocre ice cream. All this praise for Amy's is like saying an entire salad is excellent because of the homemade croutons when its main ingredient is leftover iceberg lettuce that fell off McFish sandwiches. If you only eat ice cream once in Austin, do not be pulled into this moth-to-flame tractor beam. Dolce Neve is the much better bet.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Rise Biscuits and Donuts in North Carolina

Rise Biscuits and Donuts was born in Durham in 2012, eventually opening other locations around North Carolina and even one in Texas. All told, they make a good product on both the savory side of their menu and the sweet. But this is a sugar blog not a biscuit blog, so...onto the last word of the business' name.

Their doughnuts are divided into Old School (traditional doughnuts), New School (fancy doughnuts) and Our School (differs per location, may change). It's not every purveyor of fried dough that offers a simple Cinnamon Twist alongside fad doughnuts (Maple Bacon, Crème Brûlée), regionally specific treats (Cheerwine Icing) and originality (Banana Cake with Nutella). One would expect them to have an endlessly long menu, but they manage such a impressive range with a mere 15 doughnuts to choose from! It's a good problem to have, but deciding can be difficult at Rise. Allow me to introduce the crown jewel of their menu, the Pineapple Basil doughnut.

Incredibly tasty, this doughnut is unlike any I've ever encountered. The pineapple is sharp and tangy, the flavor lasting longer than most glazes. The cream filling offers a counterweight of sweetness, one that doesn't mellow the overall tartness but rather produces another note in the chord. It's all delivered in a delicious doughnut that's topped with pistachios for texture and, along with the basil, adds a light touch of savory. One bite of this doughnut and I knew it was one I would remember. An instant classic.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Innovations in Dessert Delivery

Recently, groups of protesters marched in streets across the nation on behalf of science. And, as many of them know, standing up for a cause must never stop at a march or a Facebook update or a post to one’s ice cream blog. We must champion scientific innovation and vote with our dollars. For that reason, I present to you a an adaptation of a Powerpoint report I did at work on the Innovations in Dessert Delivery, some of the most important scientific studies being done today in service to humanity.

• • •

Trends come and go in the world of sweets: cupcakes are not as hot as maple bacon doughnuts are not as hot as cronuts. But sometimes innovative product delivery can be just as effective for boosting sales as innovative products.

Once upon a time, someone (possibly Albert Doumar) imagined a method of eating ice cream that eliminated waste and was good for on-the-go. Over a century later, the ice cream cone is part of ice cream culture both domestically and internationally.

Here are some of the interesting trends in how dessert is delivered to the consumer. Some still involve a customer service medium:

Made-to-order: This in-store trend has been big for a decade now, whether regional doughnut chains like Duck Donuts and Fractured Prune, a global chain like Cold Stone mixing whatever you like into the ice cream flavor of your choice or an Asian cream puff chain that focuses on natural ingredients. spreading to America, Beard Papa's.

Serve yourself: Taking a page from those tasteful soft-serve sundae bars at buffets, frozen yogurt chains are letting customers choose how much froyo and toppings they want, combining as many flavors as they want. All the people behind the counter have to do is weigh the customer's custom sundae and collect their money...and clean up the mess that soccer team made of the birthday cake/cotton candy twist machine.

Delivered to your home: Cookies straight to your door, for those late night, um, studying sessions. Originally founded with college campuses in mind, working adults can see the benefits of Insomnia Cookies' late-night delivery, too.

Others eliminate customer service altogether:

Vending machine: Ice cream vending machines have been casting their glow on airport breezeways for years now, but now regional chains are entering the market. Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams now has an ice cream vending machine in the Columbus, Ohio airport and Ted Drewe's has one in the St. Louis airport.

ATM: Just as cupcakes are a cutesy dessert that has cashed in on style-before-substance nostalgia, the Sprinkles' Cupcake ATM seems a perfect method for a not-quite-adult to delight in their empty calories while getting their dessert in a method that's like Fisher Price Talking Elmo ATM meets Easy-Bake oven, all so willing consumers can stand in line to be treated like the insipid children that they are. The ATM is even bright pink!

Gumball machine: Playing the nostalgia card in a different way, New York's Baked by Melissa created cupcake gumball machine for events rental.

One has to wonder the next innovation to be imagined and made real by dessert scientists. What do you think it will be?

Thursday, May 4, 2017

3 Floyds Brewpub in Munster, IN

My brother (middle), who is not one of the eponymous Floyds.
When my craft beer aficionado brother suggests a road trip to a brewery to me, his sober brother, the appeal doesn't always immediately present itself. It helps when these spots also make craft soda (because they damn well should do that, too) or have a menu that shows a little effort (not just lazy, paint-by-number pub fare) or, even better, a dessert menu with a personal touch. When the most recent trek involved crossing a state line, I hoped against hope that the menu would be something special. I never expected the blog-worthy treat we found at 3 Floyds in Munster, IN: beignets with chocolate dipping sauce.

Before I continue, it is worthy of note how rarely beignets are a success. One cannot even hear the word "beignet" in America without thinking of Cafe Du Monde in the New Orleans French Market, a deserving staple for every tourist. Yet, even with this knowledge of the beignet benchmark in everyone's minds, so often menus fall short...by miles and miles. The so-called "beignets" one usually orders are often nothing more than an oily, yet fancily-named grease bomb of a doughnut, or a flat rectangle of fried dough, or something else that's totally disappointing. This is not the case at 3 Floyds Brew Pub.

Moments before the
beignet massacre.
← ← ← I mean, just look at them. Puffy, light, chewy. Everything a beignet ought to be. And 3 Floyds doesn't skimp on the portions; none of this "three per plate" nonsense, a peeve of mine since most tables are parties of two. Much to my surprise, the chocolate sauce was even better than the pastry. I don't know what brand of chocolate they melt down (and neither did our server) but I'd gladly buy a bar of this. It was rich, of course, but also had numerous flavor notes--the beginning, middle and end that signify quality chocolate.

Craft beer enthusiasts, when you make the pilgrimmage to 3 Floyds, make time for the Brew Pub and do yourselves a favor by ordering the beignets. They may even be better than the ones you tried in New Orleans.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Chicago Pie: TL;DR

(l-r) Hoosier Mama's Vanilla Cream with Strawberries,
First Slice's storefront, Bang Bang's Blue-barb
As a lover of pie and annual host of a Pi(e) Day party, I often seek out the best bakers of round pastry. In my own city, there is no lack of notable stops. I wrote a series on Chicago Pie's Big Three. Here's the TL;DR.
• • •

Best pies: Dutch Sour Cream [any fruit] and Earl Grey Custard
Biggest overall strength: Custard pies
Extra credit: Best in Chicago at savory pies

Best pies: Michigan Cherry and Pecan
Biggest overall strength: Cheesecakes
Extra credit: Gluten free Polka Dot pie

Best pies: Strawberry-Rhubarb and Chocolate
Biggest overall strength: Fruit pies
Extra credit: Biscuit with toppings

Honorable mention:
Chopping Block
Best Pie: Apple pie
Biggest overall weakness: Only available at Apple Fest and for order at Thanksgiving

Monday, May 1, 2017

Chicago Pie: Bang Bang Pie & Biscuits

Chocolate Pecan and Blue-barb.
As a lover of pie and annual host of a Pi(e) Day party, I often seek out the best bakers of round pastry. In my own city, there is no lack of notable stops. Last year, I began a series covering the wonder that is Chicago pie, starting with Hoosier Mama and First Slice. Here’s the last of the Big Three.

• • •

If asked which of Chicago Pie’s Big Three is my favorite, I’ll likely say Bang Bang Pie & Biscuits. Unlike the other two, I can always rely on something I haven’t tried yet from their rotating monthly menu of six pies, plus weekend specials. Why else might that be? Well...

Bang Bang’s Strawberry Rhubarb pie is the best slice of pie I’ve ever had. Ever. That is no small statement. Usually when I have Strawberry Rhubarb pie, I wonder why anyone would ever want to dilute the tang of rhubarb with the strawberry sweetness. Strawberries may be the perfect food, but rhubarb is a delicacy that one shouldn’t take for granted. But Bang Bang has created a pie in which both superior fruits shine brightly, the tang and the sweetness, neither diluted, both combining their forces into a Super Pie, the likes of which has never been seen before by man or beast. Let us thank our lucky stars for being born in the same time as this pie.

Example menu. It changes.
In general, I feel the main distinction Bang Bang has from its peers is its fruit pies. They use a flaky crust with lard in it, the best of their different crusts. It is glorious. Additionally, they tend to add a little somethin’, somethin’ to their fruit pies, like a drizzle of crème fraiche (as with the Strawberry-Rhubarb) or a lemon crumble topping (as with the Blue-barb pie…that’s blueberry-rhubarb). These extra touches make their already superior product stand out even more.

Bang Bang also does a good job on their chocolate pies. The Chocolate was a favorite when it was featured. It was dark chocolate pastry cream, chocolate french silk, whipped cream, chocolate cookie crust. A more oft-featured menu item is their Chocolate Pecan Pie, which is heavy on the pecans and has none of that overrated sweet jelly stuff. What they have instead is a dense maple sorghum filling, plus a chocolate chip or two in each bite.

Brisket biscuit.
Predictably, the biscuits that make up part of the business name are the best part of the savory menu, offered with a variety of toppings (candied bacon, collard greens, etc.) to turn a side item into its own feast. Bang Bang does offer two savory pies, but they are a bit of a let down; the buffalo chicken pie is really the exact same thing as the chicken pot pie, but with bleu cheese and hot sauce on top. But these are minor slights next to the rest of the menu.

Bang Bang may be my favorite in Chicago pie, but be sure to try Hoosier Mama and First Slice for yourself to decide which is your favorite.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Sweet Me Creamery

Jewel-Osco and Mariano’s now carry an ice cream brand they didn’t before, Sweet Me Creamery out of St. Paul, MN. I bought one of the flavors with a smug “ho-ho, try to impress me attitude,” snarfed the whole pint in one sitting and then bought the available product line on my next trip. Here are my notes:

Salted Caramel Brownie – Chewy, fudgy brownies with sweet, runny caramel. (The salt content is thankfully low. Salt should subtly complement, not pull focus.) Usually, my complaint about brownie-based ice cream is that they are in vanilla ice cream instead of chocolate. Not with this flavor. It all comes together to be the best brownie sundae I’ve had, albeit mixed together. This flavor has earned a place among my Freezer Favorites.

Strawberry Rhubarb Cobbler – This flavor was the first I tried from Sweet Me and, while I didn't intend to, I snarfed the whole pint in one sitting. A fruit swirl isn't as nice as actual fruit mixed in to ice cream and the rhubarb flavor didn't register for my tastebuds, but the rest of it was so good, who cares? The vanilla base is excellent, perfectly complementing the crispy cobbler bits.

Creamy Dark Chocolate Mint –  The best mint ice cream is chocolate mint ice cream. This one solidifies that opinion. As I've stated before, chocolate ice cream rarely tastes like actual chocolate; adding mint to it aligns it quickly with Thin mints, the finest of chocolate mint products. Still, this particular chocolate ice cream isn't the best of the Sweet Me Creamery product line. The chocolate chips are thin, offering more crunch than flavor.

Chocolatey Peanut Butter Pretzel – The mention of chocolate in the name is symbolic at best. The flavor is principally peanut butter, though some crunchy bits of peanut add some originality to the mix. Surprisingly, the pretzels stay keep their crunch for the most part. Too much of the peanut butter, not enough of the sweet. But that’s how I feel about most peanut butter desserts...Most remind me too much of elementary school lunch or something.

Maple Toffee Blondie – The maple is strong with this one and the caramel is plentiful enough to push the flavor just over the edge to go from sweet into cloying. The blondies are of a similar texture as the brownies in Sweet Me's other flavors, but less flavorful.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Ferrara Bakery's Pastries in Chicago, IL

At Ferrara's, you can't lose.
In operation since 1908*, Ferrara Bakery is one of the few lingering family-owned Italian eateries on Taylor Street, the road to Chicago's "Little Italy." According to their website, they were actually the first pastry shop in the neighborhood! (The same family also went on to found the Ferrara Pan Candy Company, makers of Lemonheads, Red Hots and Atomic Fireballs, among other candies.) Since I've been finding myself in the neighborhood a lot, I've gotten around to tasting some most of their pastries. Here are my top ten:

(1) Tiramisu - The question isn't whether the tiramisu is the best thing at Ferrara's; the question is whether or not theirs is the perfect tiramisu. The dusting of cocoa powder neither overpowers, nor is overpowered by the espresso. The ladyfingers are a springy vessel that neither steals too much focus nor soaks in too much of the main event. And, blessedly, the predominant flavor is the layers of whipped mascarpone which is airy, but never light on flavor. With the balance of flavors in their tiramisu, Ferrara's has accomplished a rare feat, one worth trying for yourself.

(2) Eclair - From the rich chocolate topping to the the eggy pastry shell to the generous amount of custard within, this is an eclair as it is meant to be. Somewhat delicate, somewhat sturdy and all delicious. These remind me of my mom's cream puffs she made at Christmas, only better. (Don't tell Mom!)

(3) Sfogliatella - My favorite pastry from my 4 weeks spent in Italy and a rare find in America. Sometimes called a lobster tail, these pastries should have a little snap to their crust, but mostly be chewy inside. (A bad sfogliatelle is crunchy throughout. Just say no!) They are also filled with a thick custard (thickened by corn starch, maybe?) that is subtly sweet. At Ferrera's, the sweetness comes from the hints of citrus in the custard and the powdered sugar they sprinkle on top. It is a genuine taste of Italy for the curious. Molto bene! 

(4) Monachine - Take a biscuit--think cobbler topping, not something heavily seasoned and translucent with butter--then stuff it full of cannoli cream. Make sure the cannoli cream has a few chocolate chips in it. Then keep adding cannoli cream until it's overflowing. Add a maraschino cherry and you have a monachine. Sacrilege, I know, but even though it's basically a different take on the cannoli, I like it better than Ferrara's cannoli. 

(5) Limoncello Cake - This ever-so-slightly boozy dessert is a light layered cake with limoncello (or limoncello flavoring) used to add a citrusy punch. Mostly good, but one or two bites come on a bit too strong along the way...or maybe I just ate it too fast. 

(6) Ricotta Cheesecake - Cheesecake is usually heavy, but there's something even heavier about using ricotta. Fresh ricotta, though, offers a moist quality that makes each bite feel like a sip of water along the way. Order it and your gut will grow three sizes that day.

(7) Custard Chocolate Horn - Similar to the eclair in structure, but with a different shell. This shell is flakier, yet it crumbles more. Eating this pastry is more labor-intensive, even if the rewards are high. I highly prefer the eclair shell to this one.

(8) Cassata al Forno - A dense layered cake containing cannoli cream. Heavier than it looks, but no trouble to finish on my own. This would make a fine birthday cake with the right ice cream, maybe a small scoop of raspberry. Or maybe just raspberries. It's a good cake and flavor, but would benefit from something punching it up a little. 

(9) Cannoli - It's good, but something is off about the cream. A great cannoli offers a wave of different flavors, while Ferrara's offers only two: the shell and the cream. Still good, like I said, but it isn't even the best cannoli on Taylor Street. 

(10) Pasticiotto - Like a tiny pie crust filled with a thick, lemony custard. The lemon flavor is strong here. The texture of the crust is unlike any other Italian pastry I've eaten. Tasty and fun to try, but not one I'll likely revisit anytime soon.

There ya have it! Ten Italian pastries to choose from next time you find yourself on Taylor Street. Buon appetito! 

 * The infamous year the Cubs last won the World Series...OH, WAIT. THEY WON IN 2016. WORLD CHAMPIONS!

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

A Word About My Hiatus

For 7 years (2008-2015), I consistently wrote 37 blog entries per year. At first, that number occurred by chance when I happened to reach the same number two years in a row. After that it was habitual, giving me a reasonable goal that numerically matched my own personal desire to compose blog entries amongst the many other creative projects I immerse myself in. Some bloggers post daily (or more), while I've always taken the quality of quantity approach. (Zing!)

I began this blog as a way to continue writing after college. No one was asking me to write papers—much less plays—and the bulk of my inspiration jumped tracks from playwriting/directing to songwriting/lyricism. The blog kept me in close touch with words without the constraints of a rhythmic pulse. I am fully capable of rambling on about most anything I know remotely anything about, so I'd likely be able to write at length about any topic; dessert, specifically ice cream, was simply a topic I was consistently asked about. It made sense to write about my niche subject of expertise. Besides, there were enough blogs covering entrees already.

Over the past two years, I’ve been privileged enough to travel all over the continental United States, both for work and for pleasure. In each city, I have done my usual gastronomic exploring, letting my sweet tooth lead the way. In dessert blogging, we call this “research.” (In my career, we call this "expenses.") On these travels, I have been putting in far more time researching than documenting my tasty, tasty findings. hence the decreased regularity of blog posts.

Moving forward, I foresee myself being far less rigid on the frequency of my blogging. But, never fear, friends—it is primarily my existing friends that arrive here—I’m always happy to give a dessert recommendation on anywhere you may be traveling. The search bar is always available here and I’m always good for a text or Facebook exchange.