Saturday, October 18, 2014

Gelato with a View -- Gelato Mania in Cape Town, SA

One of my favorite stops of the honeymoon was Cape Town, South Africa. When we were planning our honeymoon, I told K that a safari was at the top of my list. Several people had recommended Kruger National Park in South Africa, telling us that it was a great location for "safari beginners" (which we certainly are!). And it seemed silly to K to go all the way to South Africa without seeing Cape Town.

While people rave about the coastal city of Cape Town, K and I were still blown away by the spectacular natural beauty surrounding the city. When I think of Cape Town now, the word that comes to mind is "dazzling." There is so much to do and see here. Some of the highlights for me included riding the rotating cable car up the steep sandstone and granite slopes of Table Mountain and the day-long tour of the Cape Peninsula and Constantia Winelands that we took through Luhambo Tours. I'd highly recommend both experiences!
View of Cape Town from the top of Table Mountain
Wine tasting at Steenberg Vineyards
Between our planned activities, K and I enjoyed exploring different neighborhoods of Cape Town. We both agreed that if we ever moved to Cape Town, we'd love to live in Camps Bay. The coastal suburb is a mere 15-minute drive from downtown Cape Town, but it seems like a world away. K said it reminded him a lot of Malibu or Manley Beach, with its white sandy beaches, open patio restaurants, and volleyball parks.

Like any good beach town, Camps Bay has its fair of ice cream and gelato shops. Many of Camp Bay's good restaurants and shops are found in the Promenade shopping center. With its stunning views of the beach, its easy to see why the spot is so popular.
Panorama from the Promenade (photo cred: K)
I quickly zeroed in on Gelato Mania, a shop advertising "artisan gelato." It was late afternoon, and I was a bit hungry. A snack was in order to tide us over until our dinner reservation at the Woodlands Eatery.

Gelato Mania has a bold and lively decor, and the gelato flavors and toppings match the fun vibe. We discovered that there are five outposts of the small South African gelato chain, and that they all share the same cheerful decor and gelato. There had to be more than two dozen flavors -- all of which looked like crowd-pleasers. While none of the flavors sounded too outlandish or unique, everything sounded yummy. I was told that the most-popular flavors included After 8 Mint, Angelo Blu (bubble gum!), Tiramisu and Chocolate Hazelnut. There were even several sorbets; the Mango looked particularly good! But I was sold on the Cherry Bomb and Quello (described as having "loads of caramel"). And while the numerous topping options looked enticing, I figured these flavors would be fun enough on their own.
Gelato Mania's prices seemed reasonable to me -- R46.80 (about $4 USD) for my two scoops -- but this must be pretty expensive by South African standards (cost of living is much lower there than in the States). But this view itself is worth something, right?

Gelato with a view
The verdict? Gelato Mania's gelato lived up to my expectations. While it wasn't the most dense or refined gelato ever, my scoops were sweet and flavorful. The texture was light, but the gelato melted fast in the warm afternoon heat. For any East Coasters or Midwesterners, the Cherry Bomb reminded me of the Black Cherry ice cream at Friendly's. The cherry flavor was strong and sweet, and little bits of sweetened black cherries were found throughout the scoop. While it was good, it wasn't exactly memorable. But the Quello was a different story; the gelato base had a rich custard-like flavor. But it was that caramel that took this gelato over the top. When the staff of Gelato Mania scooped the Quello out of its bin, they made sure to grab a healthy chunk of that caramel coating. The resulting caramel swirl was a showstopper; its buttery depth and sticky consistency was reminiscent of the center of a fancy caramel truffle. I don't think I could return to Gelato Mania and not order the caramel again. And I have a feeling that this won't be our last time in Cape Town... or our last time at Gelato Mania in Camps Bay ;-)

The Stats:
Gelato Mania
Shop 11, Ground Floor
The Promenade, Victoria Road
Camps Bay, Cape Town 8040
(Multiple locations in South Africa)

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Hong Kong's Ice Cream Gallery -- Foie Gras and Lobster, Oh My!

After a relaxing and luxurious few days in the Maldives, it felt strange to be in the bustling metropolis of Hong Kong. (I should mention that we visited before the major protests, which I'm watching on TV right now!)

Hong Kong is one of K's favorite cities, but this was my first time visiting. And even after just 36-hours there, I can totally understand his infatuation. There is a magical quality to the city; it's a densely populated with both people and skyscrapers, but the hilly and lush terrain gives it a Jurassic Park-like feel. And Hong Kong was an important British colony until 1997, when it was formally handed over to the People's Republic of China. So it retains some of its British/western identity and has a huge expat community. So we were able to find a craft-beer bar for K and a gluten-free grocery store for me!

Hong Kong is well-known for its vibrant food scene. The number of Michelin-starred restaurants is growing, and world-renowned celebrity chefs like Gordon Ramsey and Jamie Oliver have recently opened restaurants. K and I had one of the best meals of our honeymoon here, at Ho Lee Fook, where everything is spicy and addicting (I'm looking at you, shredded chicken salad with the mysterious "strange sauce").

But the most memorable culinary experience I had in Hong Kong took place in the late afternoon, when I was on the hunt for some local ice cream. And while I've had tried some very interesting flavors (remember cheese gelato and yak soft serve?), nothing prepared me for our visit to the Ice Cream Gallery.
Tucked inside a shopping mall, the Ice Cream Gallery has dished up over 600 different ice-cream flavors since 1994. Owner Arron Liu is known for churning out some of the finest (and most expensive!) gourmet ice cream in Asia.
What the Ice Cream Gallery lacks in colors, it makes up for in creativity and. Much of the ice cream is created in the style of French crème glacée, made from full-fat imported French cream and eggs. Some of these flavors sound more like fine cuisine than ice cream! French White Truffle, French Lobster, King Crab (!), French Foie Gras... I could barely believe my eyes. And even the traditional, classic flavors receive the special treatment; Pure Vanilla features Madagascar vanilla bourbon and Philippine mangoes are brought in for the Mango ice cream. According to their website, the Ice Cream Gallery doesn't use any artificial flavors or colors, stabilizers, gelatin, or preservatives. The lack of food coloring explained why the colors behind the glass ice-cream case were fairly muted.
The most interesting savory-sounding ice creams caught K's attention, and neither of us could settle on just one flavor. But we finally settled on four flavors (hey, it was our honeymoon!), and we ordered small cups of the following flavors:

French Foie Gras - made with fresh Roujie foie gras
French Lobster - made with fresh lobster
French Rose Champagne Chocolate - made with organic French roses, champagne and French 80% dark chocolate
Japanese Sesame 

The insane creations at the Ice Cream Gallery don't come cheap. We had to fork over the equivalent of $35 USD for our tasting smorgasbord.
L to R: Foie Gras, Rose Champagne Chocolate, Lobster, Sesame
The verdict? I don't think my taste buds have ever been so disoriented! I tried the Sesame first and was thoroughly impressed. Sweet, toasty, and just slightly gritty, this ice cream was delightful. It wasn't the creamiest ice cream, but I enjoyed the airier texture. Next up was the Rose Champagne Chocolate. This flavor was sweeter than the sesame, but it retained a deep chocolatey flavor. The champagne flavor hit later, as the ice cream melted on my tongue. I couldn't detect rose at all and wondered if I'd misinterpreted the name. Was it rosé champagne? Nope... I confirmed that rose was indeed a separate ingredient before I left. And now was the time for the savory flavors. The Lobster ice cream immediately reminded me of a rich lobster bisque.... but frozen and a tad bit sweeter? I'm not sure if the sweetness was just left over on my palate, or if there was actually a bit of sugar involved. The Foie Gras definitely tasted sweet, but it lacked the distinct fatty and salty flavor of foie gras. K said that if it was a blind taste test, he wouldn't have known it was foie gras (and the boy loves his duck liver). Neither of us wanted to finish the two savory ice creams, but we were both glad we'd tried them. The Sesame, on the other hand, I couldn't let go to waste. All in all, I'd really only recommend the Ice Cream Gallery to adventurous eaters. If you're a vanilla-or-chocolate kind of ice-cream eater, you may prefer to try Hong Kong's other shops. But if your taste buds are up to a challenge, walk run on over to the Ice Cream Gallery for an unforgettable experience.

The Stats:
Ice Cream Gallery
Windsor House/ICG Shop (Ground Floor - G16)
311 Gloucester Road, Causeway Bay
Hong Kong

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Sweet Treats at the W Retreat & Spa - Maldives

After our brief stop in Singapore, K and I hopped aboard a Singapore Airlines flight to the Maldives. This second honeymoon destination was K's choice (mine was South Africa), but I'm so glad that we were able to experience this beautiful part of the world. The W Retreat & Spa - Maldives is truly worthy of all the praise it receives online.

At the airport, about to board seaplane to the W's island!
The Republic of the Maldives is an island nation just north of the Equator in the Indian Ocean. Most of the islands are teeny-tiny; of the nearly 1,200 islands that comprise the Maldives, just 200 are inhabited. And one of these islands is home to the W Retreat & Spa - Maldives.

As you can see from the photo above, the island itself is quite small... it took about 15 minutes to walk (at a leisurely pace) around the perimeter of the island. The island houses the hotel's reception area, restaurants and shared pool areas, as well as a couple guest cottages. But the W owners built a long row of opulent over-water bungalows attached to the island by a long wooden walkway. K and I were lucky enough to score one of the bungalows towards the end of the walkway. This meant that we had a longer trek to get to the restaurants, but we woke up every morning to unobstructed water views that made us feel like we were the only two people in the world. Talk about a romantic honeymoon setting :)

But of all the special touches at the W Maldives, this was probably my favorite:
This hut may not look like much, but it brought out my inner "kid" every day. There were three of these special huts spread around the resort... one on the island and two along the wooden walkway out to the over-water bungalows.
A real island treasure chest
A selection of London Dairy ice cream cups (in Cookies and Cream and Double Chocolate flavors) and Natural Strawberry sundae cones, along with some Calippo ice lollies in Orange. My gluten intolerance meant I avoided the sundae cones and Cookies and Cream ice cream cups. K tried both during our stay, and he seemed to especially enjoy the cones (i.e. he ate multiple). The Double Chocolate ice cream was a great after-lunch or dinner dessert, with its rich dark chocolate base. But the "chocolate flakes" advertised on the package didn't taste even remotely chocolaty to me... they tasted like pure wax! Luckily, the flakes were so thin and small that the overall taste of each spoonful was good. The Orange ice lollies ended up being my go-to treat... incredibly refreshing and intensely orange. While the packaging said the lollies contained 20% real orange juice, there was a lot of added sugar. These tasted more like frozen orange Slurpees than the orange juice popsicles my mom would make us during the summer (and sometimes allowed us to eat for breakfast!). So while I wouldn't eat these every day at home, I ate one or two every day in the Maldives. Hey, they were complimentary!

These ice creams provided excellent (and convenient) fuel before our different activities, including snorkeling and deep-sea fishing.
I caught one! (But ultimately threw him back)
The W Retreat & Spa Maldives is an unforgettable place. If you're looking for a romantic island getaway where the food, drinks and recreational experiences are only out-shined by the friendly and accommodating staff, the W Retreat & Spa - Maldives is for you. You can count on me returning one day... and not just for the free ice cream!

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Udders Ice Cream in Singapore (Honeymoon Part I)

So much has happened since I last blogged. The most important thing being that I married a guy who makes me smile every day:
And following our beautiful wedding, K and I hopped on a plane to kick off our around-the-world honeymoon adventure! In less than three weeks, we visited five countries. The first destination was Singapore!

While the main reason we visited in Singapore was that it's on the way to the Maldives (our second stop), I was really excited about visiting the city-state and island country in Southeast Asia. We had one full day to explore and, boy, did we fit a lot in! Despite the heat, we did lots of walking, window shopping on Orchard Road, taking in the impressive city views from the rooftop bar at Marina Bay Sands, and even enjoyed an original Singapore Sling at the Raffles Hotel (the birthplace of the popular cocktail).
Given the oppressive August heat, stopping for an afternoon ice cream was imperative. That's where Udders Ice Cream came in. Udders is a popular Singaporean ice-cream chain with five locations around the city. While it's best-known among locals for its "adult" (i.e. alcoholic) ice-cream flavors, I must admit that the store's silly name is what caught my eye. But given that there was a line of customers on a workday afternoon, I figured there must be more than great marketing to the story.

The interior of the store was colorful and creative; I 'd read that founder David Yim was a schoolteacher before venturing out as an ice-cream entrepreneur, and I could see evidence of this throughout the store. I was happy to see plentiful seating inside. My feet needed a rest! I especially liked the glass panels in the dining area, where customers can leave their own doodles using colorful paint pens.
I also saw a lot of creativity in the ice-cream case. While flavors do rotate, you're not likely to see plain-ol' vanilla or chocolate at Udders. The most "normal" (by American standards) flavor I saw was the Strawberry Fields, studded with dark red strawberry bits. Most flavors here are unique Asian flavors or alcoholic concoctions (which are only sold to customers over 18 years old). Sadly, many of the most-appealing flavors contained gluten and were thus off-limits to me:

Snickers Mars Honeycomb Vanilla - plain vanilla chock-full of candy bits
Horlicks Balls - malted ice cream with crushed Maltesers balls
Cereal Killer -  bourbon ice cream with cornflakes and caramel biscuits (I'd love to create a gluten-free version at home!)
How good do those sound?!?

The friendly people behind the counter recognized my indecision, and they offered to give me a sample. I requested a taste of the Sexy Me, Udder's take on black sesame. It has a beautiful jet-black color, and I fell in love with its nutty, sweet, and earthy richness. It only took that one nibble for me to deem it the "best sesame ice cream I've ever had!"
And while I was tempted to order one of the sinful-sounding sundaes and shakes that Udders advertises, I settled on a double-scoop cup of Wineberries (port-soaked cranberries in port ice cream) and D24 Durian (made from the flesh of premium D24 durian).
Now, K had warned me about durian before. Popular in Southeast Asia, the fruit has a pungent, overpowering smell that most people find unpleasant. But durian supposedly tastes much better than it smells, and many people adore it in fruity desserts. I figured it was worth a shot! But as soon as the lady behind the counter opened the glass door behind the tub of durian ice cream, I was overcome by a strange, putrid smell that turned my stomach. I couldn't believe how it was possible to love the taste of something that smelled so bad!

I must mention the interesting pricing structure at Udders. The "Classic" flavors, which do not contain alcohol, cost less than the boozy "Premium" and "Connoisseur" flavors. While it was confusing at first, I really like the differentiated pricing structure as those who order non-alcoholic flavors don't have to subsidize the boozy flavors. Since the Wineberries is a "Connoisseur" flavor and the D24 Durian is a "Classic," my double-scoop came out at $8.30SGD, or $6.64USD. (I did think this was a bit too pricey)

The verdict? This was one of the few cups of ice cream that I really had no desire to finish. While the temperature of the ice cream was good -- not too soft and not frozen solid - neither flavor blew my socks off. Unfortunately, the D24 Durian tasted no better to me than it smelled. Perhaps it's an acquired taste? K also couldn't stand the taste, and we both agreed that we'd avoid the flavor in the future. Luckily, our taste buds got along better with the Wineberries ice cream. While the ice cream was not sweet enough, I did enjoy chewing on the bits of port-soaked cranberries and savoring the light taste of alcohol in the port-flavored base. Overall, the quality of Udders' ice cream wasn't incredibly impressive; the creaminess and flavor intensity were no better than regular store-bought ice cream. Needless to say, I'll try a different ice-cream shop next time I'm in Singapore... or just stick to the sesame flavor :)

The Stats:
Udders Ice Cream
Five locations in Singapore (I went to the Novena store)

Thursday, July 24, 2014

A Taste of Boston at Toscanini's Ice Cream

A couple weeks ago, I finally made it to one of America's top ice-cream destinations: Toscanini’s Ice Cream & Coffee.

I’ve been hearing about Toscanini's Ice Cream (or “Tosci’s”) for years. I believe the first person to tell me about it was my friend Phil, an amazing volunteer for the organization I work for. And ever since Phil put Toscanini’s on my radar, I’ve noticed the name popping up all over the place… in conversations with locals, in Boston-area food blogs, and heck, even in the New York Times! So when my sister suggested that I meet her for dinner and ice cream in Cambridge after landing at Logan airport, I was MORE than game. As it turned out, her boyfriend and our youngest sister were also up for the adventure.

Home to Harvard University and MIT, Cambridge is a unique part of Boston. It’s hip, eclectic and a true representation of the cultural diversity in the city. We started the evening with a lovely dinner at Cuchi Cuchi, which featured an extensive cocktail list and small plates from around the world. But we soon found ourselves ambling down Main Street to Toscanini’s. It was a gorgeous night, and there was plenty of people watching to be had. We knew we must be getting close to Toscanini’s when nearly every other person we passed on the sidewalk was clutching a cone (or cup) of ice cream. The word is clearly out!
Toscanini’s storefront is nearly all windows, and you can peer into both the store and the kitchen from the sidewalk. Nothing much was happening in the kitchen (it was nearly 8:30pm on a Friday), but there was plenty of action going on in the main shop. And since Tosci’s has been around for over thirty years, I was surprised to see minimalist, modern wood-based decor and furniture when I walked through the door. Nothing about the place seems outdated - and least of all their menu of flavors! I’d read that Gus and his employees like to experiment a lot, so the flavors are constantly changing. And these were some of the most unique and appetizing flavors I’ve seen: Turkish Mocha, Saffron Khulfee, Malted Vanilla, Ovaltine and Cambridge Lime Pie were just a few that caught my eye. As did the interesting flavors of ice-cream cakes!
The line to the ice-cream counter was long, but we needed the wait time to mull over our choices. I’d emailed owner and "Ice Cream Maker in Chief," Gus Rancatore, earlier to inquire about his favorites. Gus told me that the insanely rich-sounding B3 (brown butter, brown sugar and brownie) is the best seller, but his own (current) favorite was the Mango sorbet. And while I couldn’t try the gluten-full B3, I sure knew I couldn’t leave without tasting the Mango. When I got to the front of the line, the person serving me obliged when I requested a sample. And, boy oh boy, the Mango was deliciously refreshing and chock-full of that sweet tang of the fruit. In the end, we ordered five flavors among the four of us (from left to right): Ginger Snap, Green Tea, Burnt Marshmallow, Cocoa Rum Raisin and Fluffer Nutter.
Prices are a bit higher-than-average at Tosci’s, but the scoops are generous. And I’d gladly pay nearly $6 for a double-scoop of small-batch artisan ice cream than $4 for frozen yogurt at the mall (although I do that, too!). And to those price sensitive or the light eaters out there, have no fear! Toscanin’s offers a baby size (pictured below) to satisfy your sweet tooth and budget.

The verdict? Overall, Toscanini’s ice cream is among the best I’ve ever had. What sets this ice cream apart from the rest is its FLAVOR. Ice-cream maker Gus Rancatore is a master at creating insanely-flavorful ice cream. Every scoop we ordered was a playful punch to the taste buds and perfectly lived up to its name. As a novice ice-cream maker, I kept asking myself “How did he DO this?” Flavors like green tea and maple sometimes have a hard time breaking through the sweetness of butterfat and sugar, but Gus has figured out the perfect ratio of unique ingredients to the traditional base ones. Biting into my scoop of Burnt Marshmallow was like chewing on a smoky marshmallow straight off the campfire. But Gus uses enough milk and cream to retain that creamy, velvety texture of the best premium ice creams. The same devotion to intense flavor was evident again in the Green Tea, which was so strong that only true green-tea aficionados could eat a whole pint. The Ginger Snap, however, went down very easily! Carolyn was very happy with her choice, and I can only imagine how great it would be alongside some apple pie. Classic New England flavors!

The surprise crowd-favorite was the Fluffer Nutter, which my sister's boyfriend ordered. My sisters and I were are big-time fans of the iconic sandwich (made with peanut butter and marshmallow Fluff), and Gus beautifully captured the magic flavor combination. The ice cream itself was rich yet pillowy soft, and the peanut butter and marshmallow were perfectly balanced - making for an addicting concoction!

The one and only disappointment of the night was the Cocoa Rum Raisin, whose flavor was spot-on but was served in a melted state. I’ll let the photo below do most of the talking (it was taken just minutes after we sat down), but this ice cream was so soupy that the young man behind the counter should have warned me about the problem. Not a single bite was frozen.
Anywhere else, the whole “ice-cream soup” thing would have been a deal breaker. But I’ll give Toscanini’s the benefit of the doubt because everything else we ordered was superb. I can't wait to come back!

The Stats:
Toscanini’s Ice Cream & Coffee
899 Main Street
Cambridge, MA 02139
(617) 491-5877

Friday, May 30, 2014

The Pied Piper Creamery in Nashville, TN

I sincerely apologize for my lack of posting lately. I  haven't lost interest in the blog -- or ice cream, for that matter -- but between crazy work hours and wedding planning, there is not much "down time" for me these days. And every weekend this month is full of travel -- to Chicago for a dear friend's wedding, to Boston to visit family, and a new-to-me destination: Nashville, Tennessee!

My youngest sister, Ava, turned twenty-one last month and we'd all made a pact years ago to travel somewhere awesome to celebrate her reaching the legal-drinking age. Our desired destination changed many times over the years; we'd once (ambitiously) settled on Sydney, under the assumption that we'd all be rolling in cash by the time Ava hit twenty-one. Recently, our ideas had become more realistic (i.e. domestic). And when it came time to book our weekend, Nashville was the only affordable location that the entire group could agree on (K and two of our friends joined). Coming from a musical family, I was excited to visit Music City!

The weekend was a complete blast. From the Seth Meyers comedy show we saw on Friday, to the awesome live music and Ava's impressive karaoke performance, it was a memorable trip. The only bad part of my weekend was missing out on a B.J. Novack sighting. The rest of the group saw him when they'd gone out for breakfast, but of course I was running late that day. K and I are longtime fans of "The Office", and B.J.'s dry humor is a big reason why. Maybe I'll catch him next time?

But celebrity-sightings aside, what trip to Nashville would be complete without sampling some local ice cream? I'd heard a lot of hype around Jeni's, which has a local Nashville outpost. But I'm saving my first Jeni's experience for when I can visit the original store in Ohio. There are a couple awesome-sounding Nashville originals, but the one that caught my eye was The Pied Piper Creamery in East Nashville. So we headed over there after seeing the Grand Ole Opry and the Opryland Resort (which a sight to see!).

Our Uber driver (who coincidently happened to be an Aussie!) sang East Nashville's praises on the way over, telling us that it was the hippest place for young couples and families to live. And consistent with the artsy, almost-eccentric vibe of East Nashville, The Pied Piper Creamery ended up being one of the most adorable shops I've ever seen.

Cute, right?!?
The Pied Piper Creamery is a bit hard to find, located in a cute old Victorian house with the Fairytales Bookstore. But as soon as we walked up the steps and across the porch (where we ate our ice cream), I felt instantly at home and relaxed in the quirky and colorful house. It reminded me of something I'd see in Seattle or Portland -- not in the South!

The first thing I noticed when entering the house was a big whiteboard on an easel, where I found the menu of ice-cream flavors that Pied Piper was offering that day. I was a bit disappointed that none of the creamery's most-insane flavors were listed. I'd been spending the previous hour reading from the extensive flavor list posted online, and my sisters and I were hoping to try one of the savory ones (like Basil Tomatillo Overdrive, Wasabi, or Strawberry Balsamic). There were still about two-dozen options available today, but several of the cooler flavors that caught my eye contained gluten - including Shotgun Wedding Cake, Baby Got Baklava!, and Oatmeal Raisin In The Sun. I really wanted to try the flavor Ava chose - Pied Piper's famous Trailer Trash, vanilla ice cream with Oreo, Twix, Butterfinger, Nestle Crunch, Snickers, M&Ms, and Reese's Pieces. But again... gluten stood in the way. But Pied Piper does offer a couple options for the vegan and dairy-free crowd; today it was Watermelon and Cherry Limeade sorbet and Vegan Chocolate Coconut ice cream.

In the end, I went with a "single" scoop of The Professor (coconut-flavored ice cream with pecans, almonds and cashews) and Toffee Loaded Coffee (coffee ice cream with crushed Heath bar). I always appreciate when a place will split a "single scoop" into two different flavors for you.

After forking over $3.50, I gave my cup a quick dash of sprinkles from the little shakers full of sprinkles that Pied Piper keeps on the counter.
Can you tell which scoop was coffee-toffee and which was coconut?
The verdict? First of all, I was pleased with Pied Piper's generous serving sizes and felt I got my money's worth. But my ice cream was not frozen hard enough. It was so soft that even eating it extra quickly didn’t prevent ice cream soup from accumulating at the bottom of the cup. My sister’s vegan coconut ice cream was much more firm, so perhaps the firmness varies by flavor. Luckily, things were better in the flavor department. My favorite scoop was the Toffee Loaded Coffee; the coffee ice cream was right up my alley, with a rich but sweet coffee flavor that wasn't too potent or bitter. But the bits of Heath candy were too small in my opinion. I prefer bigger chunks in my ice cream, but I recognize this is a personal - not universal - opinion. The Professor was okay but didn’t impress me or my fellow taste-testers; the ice cream tasted like imitation coconut extract and didn't contain the meaty bits of shredded coconut that I adore in other versions. The variety of nuts was unique, though, as I’ve never had ice cream with more than one type of nut. But while the flavors I chose didn't blow me away, I'd gladly return to the Pied Piper Creamery just for the environment alone! The cozy store is a great place to meet friends and relax while enjoying homemade ice cream on the porch.

The Stats:
The Pied Piper Creamery
114 South 11th Street
Nashville, TN 37206
(615) 227-4114

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Powell's Sweet Shoppe in Bend, Oregon

One of the reasons I love ice cream is that it's fun. Plain and simple fun. No matter how busy or stressful my life gets, ice cream provides me a moment of escape. It's hard to be anxious while licking an ice-cream cone. Stress and ice cream just don't go together!

Last week, I had the pleasure of traveling to Bend, Oregon for work. It was a quick 36-hour trip during an already-busy week, so I was a bit frazzled by the time the trip rolled around. But I was glad to get the chance to see Central Oregon for the first time. And I made sure to schedule a stress-reducing ice-cream adventure :)

Bend is a small city to the east of the Cascade Range, so it does not suffer from the same rainy, dreary winters that Portland and Seattle do. In fact, the locals boast about the "300 days of sunshine" here. So it's not surprising that Bend is a mecca for outdoors-sports enthusiasts. There's plenty of skiing, hiking, mountain biking, kayaking, and canoeing to enjoy (provided you're not here for work). But I got a bit unlucky; it snowed the entire day I spent in Bend!

Luckily, the snow didn't impede my meetings or my ability to check out downtown Bend. In between work obligations, I drove through the quaint city streets. Downtown Bend is full of cute shops, unique coffee shops, family restaurants, and (of course) breweries! Bend does have a hippy/alternative vibe similar to that of Portland, but I appreciated just how clean and well laid out Bend is. In fact, the town reminded me a lot of Boulder, Colorado and Burlington, Vermont. (I just realized these three cities all start with "B"... Coincidence??)

I noticed a couple small ice-cream shops around town, but I had a particular pit stop in mind: Powell's Sweet Shoppe in downtown Bend.
View from across the snowy street
Oh, the colors! Powell's Sweet Shoppe is overwhelming in the best way possible. It's a small store, but every inch of the space is covered with brilliantly wrapped candies and whimsical displays. It's like a fun penny-candy store meets an old-fashioned soda fountain. Eying the huge array of treats in every size and color, I felt lighter and giddier, forgetting any work stress I was feeling just moments before. This place is every child's dream, and this big kid explored every inch of the store. I saw all the familiar candies (like M&Ms, Jelly Belly, PEZ, and Nerds) and nostalgic candy (Jujubes, Cow Tails, and Necco Wafers), but also lesser-known retro treats like Ice Cubes, and Sky Bars. Powell's website claims they carry 5,000 varieties of candy -- and after seeing the store, I could believe it!

One of my favorite details about Powell's Sweet Shoppe is the movie-viewing area in the back, where "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory" plays on a loop. This must drive employees absolutely bonkers, but I loved how it brought such strong memories of my childhood back. That movie is just so timeless.

The fact that I meandered through the isles of candy instead of making a beeline to the gelato case is a testament to how fun this store is. The candy alone could have kept me occupied for an hour. But, alas, I was here for the gelato.

Much like the candy selection, Powell's gelato case included both classic and nostalgic flavors. I counted about 20 options. From Dark Chocolate, Mint Chip and Cookies & Cream to Salted Caramel, Cherry and Coconut Macadamia, there is something for everyone.

I ordered a "small" cup which cost less than $4 and allowed me to pick two flavors. I went with the Crème Brûlée and Almond Crunch. It wasn't until after ordering that I noticed that some of the flavors (including my Almond Crunch) were listed on Leo Leo Gelato signs while others (including Crème Brûlée and some of the more fun flavors) were posted on Powell's-branded signs. I inquired about the difference, and the lady behind the counter told me that only some of the flavors are Powell's own creations while others come from their favorite gelato company (Leo Leo).
The verdict? First of all, there is no real seating area in Powell's Sweet Shoppe, so I had to stand inside to eat this before venturing out into the snow. On a sunny day, it would be fun to eat your gelato while window shopping downtown. Now, onto the gelato... Both flavors were enjoyable, but the Crème Brûlée was hands-down my favorite. While both flavors were too soft (almost like soft serve) and too sugary-sweet for my tastes, I was impressed with the thick, dark-brown swirls of caramelized sugar in my scoop of Crème Brûlée. Although the base wasn't anything special; it was more like a sweet cream instead of the eggy custard I was hoping for. And the Almond Crunch wouldn't offend anyone, the almond flavor was pretty bland. I did like the texture of the bits of almond, though. Nuts can sometimes be soggy, but these held onto some of their bite. While the gelato at Powell's didn't quite knock my socks off, I would go back to try some other flavors. The prices are affordable, and the store is just so fun!

The Stats:
Powell's Sweet Shoppe
818 NW Wall Street
Bend, OR 97701
(multiple locations)