I think may have died and gone to ice cream heaven.
The San Francisco Ice Cream Festival was this past weekend right up the street from me at Spark Social SF. According to ABC News Channel 7, “tickets sold out within days and the line around the block stretched into the hundreds.” I cannot confirm that report, given I bought my tickets during the pre-sale and showed up as early in the day as seemed reasonably appropriate for a serious ice cream binge (just after noon) and beat the line.
With 18 vendors on site (not including non-ice cream treats), there was a lot of ground to cover. So many ice cream stops, so little time!
Here was my methodology for covering so much ground:
- Stick to pure ice cream (no shaved ice, popsicles, baked goods, etc.)
- Only sample from places I haven’t tried before, or who aren’t regular staples of Spark Social and can visit again soon
- (Oh man, that’s still too many…) Stick to only hard ice cream
- (That’s still how many…?!) Forget it…just eat until you can’t eat any more!
This vendor was more about the bizarre toppings and outrageous presentation than the ice cream itself. So the name was very appropriate – they all look wild little ice cream monster creations.
I sampled the Breakfast Of Champs, but found the ice cream itself to be nothing special without the toppings. I ultimately settled on the tried-and-true Cookies n’ Cream. (I just wasn’t brave enough to get ice cream with bananas and bacon on top.)
Their ice cream base is quite light, not terribly creamy or sweet, which provided a good backdrop for all the crazy toppings. Frankly, anything heavier probably would have been way too much, especially for the California crowd. Between the hot fudge, cookie crumble, whipped cream and pocky sticks (for good measure), I nearly went into a sundae coma!
While the overall quality of the dish may not have been anything to write home about, the presentation was super creative. A fun treat for the young – or young at heart.
Total score: 3 scoops
This wild blue truck had a lot of potential, albeit a bit of a misleading name (I expected soft serve). But turns out they actually were dishing up hard ice cream flavors, so they made the sample cut.
The portion sizes were off the charts; a single scoop was enormous! I hoped to make the most of the opportunity and try a couple of different flavors. However, my hopes were quickly dashed. Only one flavor allowed, insisted the girl at the window. Lame.
Determined to make the selection a good one, then, I sampled the Marbled Raspberry Vanilla, which featured a healthy helping of raspberry that was like eating pure jam. Too much. Instead I settled on a full serving of the Twisted Brownie, a vanilla ice cream with brownies and chocolate fudge swirl. In my book, you can’t fail with anything brownie. Sadly, I was pretty disappointed. The vanilla ice cream base was watery and bland. If it hadn’t been for the brownie, it wouldn’t have had any flavor at all. The brownies were soft and fudgy, just the way I like them, but sparse. The fudge swirl tasted like cheap Hershey’s chocolate.
Overall, I was not impressed. It felt like they were overcompensating with portion sizes to make up for lack of flavor and quality in their product.
Total score: 2 scoops
My last stop was to a fairly unimpressive table tucked in the far back corner of the park. It had none of the glam, start-up-y flair of most of the other businesses. The signage was pretty dated, the table display in not terribly inspiring, and information about their flavors. Yet something about it gave me the sense this was going to be a hidden gem.
And, boy, was it ever!
The menu was eclectic, featuring unique flavors like Saffron Pistachio and Pomegranate Chocolate Chip. All were fairly light and extremely smooth, with just the right richness balance against the unique flavor options.
- Saffron Pistachio – the gorgeous sunshine-yellow saffron was so surprising savory. The pistachio pieces gave it just the right amount of texture and interest, almost chewy instead of the usual crunchy hard nuts (in a good way).
- Rose – the pale and pretty rose flavor had all the trappings of my favorite scent, subtle and refined. As simple as it was, I wouldn’t dare defile it with a topping. Little bits of something (maybe rose petals?) give it just enough extra interest to accent this delicate, delectable dish.
- Pomegranate Chocolate Chip – a bright purplish pink, this was as bold in color as it was in flavor. The pomegranate was just tart-sweet enough to offer an ideal balance for the dark chocolate chips studded throughout. A perfect paring.
- Strawberry – Unlike the typical bland and watery vegan options, this one was strawberry fresca. It tasted like fresh-picked fruit and had lovely creamy-icy texture. I may have been converted to like vegan after all!
This was by far the most inventive, inspiring ice cream selection I have had in a long time. Possibly ever. I definitely saved the best for last!
Total score: 5 scoops