The Scoop on Summer's Ice Cream Sundaes
by adam erace
More is more: Philly is piling its artisanal sundaes high these days.
Ice cream tricycle. That was the essence of the business plan for Little Baby’s Ice Cream, founded a little more than a year ago by friends Pete Angevine, Martin Brown, and Jeffrey Ziga. The concept sounded like something dreamed up by a kindergartener in the throes of a sticky, sweet July, not three 28-to-30-year-old musicians from Philadelphia.
When the trike—equipped with a generator-powered freezer and running water—launched at the Trenton Avenue Arts Festival in May 2011, there was nothing silly about the crowds licking up scoops of Earl Grey Sriracha, Blue Bottle Coffee Toffee, Blueberry Ginger, and other unusual flavors. And today there’s nothing silly about the speed at which LBIC is growing: A full-fledged parlor inside Pizza Brain, a pop-up scoop shop in the coat check room at Union Transfer, and an expanded retail presence are all on deck for the summer. “I had no idea how popular this would become,” says Angevine. “Quite honestly, I thought Little Baby’s would be a funny thing to do on the weekends.”
In less than a year, it has become much more than that. Churned with 16 percent butterfat dairy from local, pasture-raised cows, the ice cream registered with artisanal-food fiends. “Apparently, a whole lot of people were waiting for someone to make wild flavored ice creams and show up where they were least expected,” he adds.
From 151-year-old Bassetts (45 N. 12th St., 215- 925-4315) to Kohr Bros.’s (Wonderland Pier, Ocean City Boardwalk, Ocean City, NJ, 609-399-8764) boardwalk twists, to The Franklin Fountain’s (116 Market St., 215-627-1899) turn-of-the-century-inspired splits, to Capogiro’s (119 S. 13th St., 215-351-0900) vivid gelati, our region has long cultured a love affair with creamy chilled treats. Raised on locavore ethics and eco-awareness, this new wave of ice cream has given summer’s ultimate indulgence, the sundae, a fresh look.
The one at Spanish tapas hideaway Jamonera (105 S. 13th St., 215-922- 6061), a turrón-filled (nougat) treat with a dark chocolate chili brownie base and a smattering of toppings both salty and sweet, partially originated from an old sundae standby: marshmallows. “I’ve always loved marshmallows,” says chef-owner Marcie Turney, one half of Jamonera, along with partner Valerie Safran. “I used to torch them on our electric stove as a kid.” Now the pillowy, house-made marshmallow that crowns the sundae lends a sense of familiarity to an otherwise exotic ingredient base. “Val and I are obsessed with big, rustic desserts,” she says. “So we like to play on American flavors but bring in Spanish elements, like the turrón.”
Like Turney, chef Jason Cichonski also has a soft spot for the sweet stuff, confessing to “killing two to three pints a week.” One late-night dig into a container of cookie-dough ice cream inspired Ela’s (627 S. Third St., 267-687-8512) hot chocolate-chip cookie-dough dessert. The gooey gourmet confection, now the restaurant’s most popular dessert, according to Cichonski, is made with vanilla bay leaf ice cream and topped with banana jam and hot chocolate-chip cookie-dough sauce, poured tableside. “I wanted that gooey chocolate chip element that the ice cream was missing,” he says. He’s even kicking around the idea of opening an ice cream shop, a hub for those hundreds of haute house-made flavors he has whipped up over the years.
“Unlike other guilty food pleasures from one’s childhood, today’s ice creams”—and the splits and sundaes they create—“have grown up,” according to Danielle Jowdy, who scoops under the name Zsa’s. She sells her seasonal scoops and house-baked cookie sandwiches from a 1963 robin’s-egg-blue truck on Sundays at the city’s most highprofile farmers’ market, Headhouse Square. “There’s no doubt Headhouse shoppers will love having Zsa’s at market, since they enjoy talking directly to the food artisans and they really care about where and how their food is produced,” says the Food Trust’s Katy Wich.
Those who know where to look also raid Headhouse Farmers’ Market (Second and Lombard Streets) for artisanal ice cream toppings, like pistachio-jeweled chocolate brittle from John & Kira’s and lacy Florentine cookies, delicate as snowflakes, from Market Day. Tom Culton’s candy-sweet Alpine strawberries are outstanding scattered over vanilla ice cream; ditto for some sliced peaches from Three Springs. A few blocks away, The Franklin Fountain sells jars of the best hot fudge sauce on the planet—thick and chewy and bittersweet, made with Berks County cream.
So forget the radioactive-red Maraschino cherries and (our apologies, Mr. Hershey) watery chocolate syrup. Our area’s elite sweet-tooth satisfiers craft deserving alternatives aplenty. At Yellow Springs Farm (1165 Yellow Springs Road, 610-827-2014) in Chester Springs, goat whisperer and cheesemaker Catherine Renzi earmarks a portion of her pasture-raised herd’s milk for cajeta, a Latin American caramel sauce with an edgy tang. At Belle Cakery (1437 E. Passyunk Ave., 215-271-2299), pastry chef Jessie Prawlucki packages raspberry hibiscus meringue kisses, tangy passionfruit pâtés-defruit, and glorious hazelnut brittle—beautiful gifts to be sure, but even better bashed up in their pretty bags, cinched with colored ribbon, then scattered over a big bowl of Little Baby’s vegan coconut, Franklin Fountain’s vivacious black raspberry, or Zsa’s salted caramel.
Everyone, it seems, is screaming for ice cream. And according to Angevine’s wisdom, it’s no wonder. “Ice cream is a great equalizer that brings people together and makes them happy. We all need more of something so beautiful and affirming in our lives.”
We’ll take two scoops of that.
photography by william brinson; styling by mariana velasquez