Hidden NYC: Ice Cream Crazy on the Lower East Side
In a city dripping with a smorgasbord of some of the worlds most creative desserts, there is no shortage of spots to chill out with everyone’s favorite frozen classic, ice cream. Its a wonder to me that any ice cream chain manages to survive in the city, because the mom and pop shops offer some serious competition. Between food trucks, pop up carts, and traditional corner stores, you can find ice pops, shaved ice, italian ice, gelato, sorbet, ice cream sandwiched between cookies, and pretty much anything you have ever dreamed of. From a $1000 gold covered sundae at Serendipity to a doughnut stuffed with ice cream from Holey Cream, for a much more reasonable $8.50 a pop, your frozen wish is New York’s command.
Last week, I picked my daughter up from pre-school and told her I am taking her on an ice cream crawl in New York City. Her smile was bright enough to power a small village. Our adventure consisted of 5 spots on the Lower East Side. I had mapped out where we would go in advance and picked our stops for their unique offerings. My partner in crime, Cora joined us for the gluttony.
The first stop was Oddfellows (55 East Houston St). We walked into a bright, but small space with a handful of tables. This shop features 12 rotating flavors of ice cream, sorbet and soft serve. They also put a big emphasis on their coffee selection. This shop has really pushed the envelope with some of their past flavor offerings such as foie gras, prosciutto melon, and chorizo caramel swirl. On the day of our visit, there wasn’t anything too wild on display. I ordered a sweet and refreshing lemon & basil sorbet, and my daughter seemed very happy with a basic strawberry. I’d like to pop in here again some time to see what creations they have to offer. Their website does list the daily flavors available at each location.
Our next stop was il laboratorio del gelato (188 Ludlow St). Here, gelato and sorbet are the stars. This shop had a much larger space, with minimal decor and an industrial aesthetic. But its flavor selection was mind boggling. They offer perfect sized portions and you can combine 3 scoops into their rectangular cups. I tried a fuji apple gelato, honey lavender gelato and a cantaloupe sorbet. Though I am always a sucker for apple and anything that touches honey, the cantaloupe was the surprise winner here for me. I could have eaten a bucket. Its texture and sweetness were everything I never knew I wanted. The fuji apple was good, but could have benefited from being a little more apple-y. And the honey lavender was just as scrumptious as I expected. My daughter only wanted milk chocolate. They have many varieties of chocolate. She ate every bite and told me this was her favorite of the day.
The third place we visited was Morgenstern’s Finest Ice Cream (2 Rivington St). I loved the feel of this shop with its bright blue exterior, large lightbulbs and counter front stools. This place has a plethora of creative flavors and toppings to match. Burnt honey vanilla, banana curry, blueberry milk chocolate and salted pretzel to name a few. But our party decided to split two main feature on their menu, a creme brulee cup and a burnt sage cone. The burnt sage ice cream was covered in a chocolate shell. It had a perfect texture and a more delicate flavor than I expected. The chocolate shell overpowered the sage a bit. We knew we were getting creme brulee ice cream when we ordered it, but we didn’t expect it to come with a torch burnt sugar top, like the traditional dessert does. This was unreal and a definite highlight of our ice cream day. Every bite was devoured and we were left wanting more. This alone was worth the trip into the city.
Next, we ventured into Chinatown to visit the social media darling, Taiyaki (119 Baxter St). This shop frequently pops up in food blogs and instagram photoshoots for its adorable fish shaped waffle cones. Their specialty is soft serve, and there are only a few flavors on offer. However, what they do with those flavors and cones is where the magic is at. Taiyaki (baked sea bream in Japanese) is a confection from Japan dating back to Meiji-era Tokyo. This fun street food is made using waffle batter and shaped into the likeness of a fish. They are also stuffed with sweets such as custard or red bean paste, smacked between the two halves of the waffle, equaling deliciousness. Then they took it to a new level by adding marshmallow horns and ears and a bunch of colorful sprinkles to create a unicorn as one of their options. Now I have to admit, I expected this stop to be all about getting a cute selfie with a novelty dessert. But my expectations had been set way too low. This was a knockout. The vanilla soft serve was some of the best vanilla I have ever had in my life, and the cone had the perfect crispiness to it. The custard that lined it took the whole dessert to a new level. I hope to make it back here again and again, or that they spread like wildfire and someday have a location closer to my suburban home.
The final stop on our ice cream escapade was Ice & Vice (221 East Broadway). This experimental ice cream shop won the 2014 Vendy Awards for Best Dessert with their creative customized small batches. This is a very chic and adult friendly shop, offering boozy flavors such as Frose, Amaretto Sour and Pina Colada. It also offers some very colorful flavors for kids like Detention Ice Cream Pie, which is malted vanilla ice cream, Fruity Pebble crust, and fruity Pebble dust. Their flavors also change constantly, so there is always something exciting. One of the coolest things here to me was the selection of cones to put the ice cream in. Birthday cake, coconut almond macaroon cone, dark chocolate chai, and salted blue corn honey were some of the cones we could choose from. I went honey crazy here. I had possibly the worlds best honey ice cream, complete with chunks of bee pollen on the salted blue corn honey cone. By this point in the evening, I wished I had another stomach to put it all in. I still managed to finish most of it and have no regrets!
You can find exciting frozen treats in any neighborhood in NYC, but the Lower East Side is a gold mine. On your next New York visit, venture downtown and discover which is your new favorite sweet spot. Let me know your flavor winners.