Ice Cream To Lick or Carry Out
If I have only one life to live, let me live it next door to Baskin-Robbins and its incredible changing parade of 31 flavors: Each month Baskin-Robbins giveth. Each month B-R taketh away. August hails strawberry-banana and "back from vacation": German chocolate cake, pineapple nut, peppermint, strawberry-rhubarb and lemon sherbet, sparkling Burgundy, watermelon ice. Going out —sob!—beloved mandarin chocolate, noble fudge brownie, strawberry shortcake, pink grapefruit, and tangerine. Perfectly stable minds creak and cloud under the pressure of decision: rocky road, Oregon blackberry, plum nuts, boysenberry cheesecake. Once in a Virginia Baskin-Robbins a plump nine-year-old boy stalled traffic for excruciating minutes as he considered the fatal choice. Finally . . . finally . . . he spoke: "I'll take vanilla." I shook my head sadly—there was a kid with real problems.
Mr. R. and the late Mr. B. started with one small stand in Glendale, California. Today there are almost 900 units cross country. Their formula: 14 per cent butterfat, low overrun and top-quality fruits, nuts and flavorings at a premium price: cones are 25, 40 and 55 cents, sundaes 65 cents, a hand-packed pint 75 cents (French vanilla and chocolate fudge slightly higher). Each store is stocked with tiny plastic tasting spoons. Unlimited tasting is—supposedly—welcomed. "Our first commandment," said the B-R spokesman: "Use the tasting spoons." B-R has made cautious inroads into the Bronx, Brooklyn and Queens . . . but not yet Manhattan. "We're surrounding you," B-R's spokesman noted. "We'll soon be taking you by storm. By late fall," she promised.
So off we drove to the Forest Hills outpost at 72-62 Austin, where the glass windows were frosted by the heavy-breathing hordes. I tasted pralines 'n' cream. I tasted mango. I was about to ask for a sample of red, white and blueberry when the Kulture Maven hissed in my ear: "Are you crazy? This is New York." He bought me a mandarin chocolate cone. "How many tastes do you allow?" I asked. "Five," said the counter boy, "but no more for you because you've already chosen." He then hand packed two pints of jamoca and chocolate fudge so loosely they fell three-quarters of an inch by morning. If I have but one life to live, I guess I won't live it next door to the Forest Hills Baskin-Robbins.
Häagen-Dazs heads are insatiable. All that kept Ali MacGraw together during the filming of Goodbye, Columbus was periodic mainlining of Häagen-Dazs. Before she discovered sensory awareness, Life's Jane Howard wrote, "If I were being executed tomorrow morning, what I'd order for dessert tonight would be a dish of Coffee Häagen-Dazs." The Häagen-Dazs hysteria enrages rival ice cream makers. "It's the biggest farce in the industry," one told me. "It isn't even ice cream. It's soggy. And have you seen that boysenberry? The color . . . eeck . . . it's sickening." Why so livid? Jealousy, partly. And conservatism. By tradition, the best American ice cream has been a balance of fresh thick cream, the best fruits, quality flavoring and air. By lowering the butterfat slightly and introducing very little air, Häagen-Dazs creates a heavy, sophisticated frozen dessert. Not only do rival ice cream makers consider that subversive, they are quick to note that the map on the Häagen-Dazs package with Oslo, Stockholm and Copenhagen starred suggests that the ice cream is flown here by SAS, when in fact it is brewed in the Bronx. Häagen-Dazs fans couldn't care less. The flavors are chocolate, vanilla, coffee, rum raisin, boysenberry and "after four years of seeking perfection," strawberry, a fruit-studded sensation, each 85 cents a pint.
Good Humor has had its occasional excesses: prune, kumquat, licorice and that all-time loser, the chile con carne Good Humor. But for half a century the men in white have hawked whole-some and irresistible whimsies on a stick. Brooklyn Good Humor man Joseph Bivona even aided in the emergency delivery of a six-pound, two-ounce baby girl. "I'm sure he saved my little girl's life," the grateful mother said. "You know, I thought he was a doctor. He was wearing a white coat." Nine hundred G-H vendors in New York City are featuring pistachio crunch this week, first revival in nine years. On August 7, the tiger-stripe bon joy swirl cup (orange and root beer). August 21, banana split. Labor Day, strawberry shortcake, 12 percent butterfat, 90 per cent overrun. Specials now up to an inflationary 25 cents.
Devotees of soft ice cream swear by Carvel. It tastes like sweetened shaving foam to me. But in Carvel's bulk ice cream (at 75 cents a pint), rum raisin has ofttimes soothed my soul. Carvel also does ice cream cakes, tarts, sno-balls, icy wycy, the lollapalooza, the papapalooza and the mamapalooza: the cryogenic family. A dazzlingly gallant gentleman manages the Broadway and 78th Street unit. When my shoppingbag-load of rival ice cream ripped into shreds, he voluntarily collected the whole mess and repacked it in a Carvel sack. The staff here is also notoriously tolerant of children. In New York that may count more than mere butterfat.