Monday, October 20, 2008

IEM Session #5- I Scream from Ice Cream

Sorry this took a while. What can I tell you other than I’m lazy and it’s hard to do my writing at work when the sword of Damocles dangles over my head every second I sit in the cubicle. On principle, I ONLY write while at work. Plus, the television’s siren song is much too loud at home. My company got sold in the height of the recent financial meltdown and there’s a good chance I might get laid-off. I hope to continue doing these sessions every other month (give or take), but if I get shit-canned it might be difficult, unless I can figure out a way to pay for the sessions with food stamps or I can find some sort of a De Medici-esque patron to sponsor my gluttony.

An ice cream IEM session was a whole new twist. Ice cream is a dessert, not a savory item, so many people automatically figured it would be very difficult because they can't eat a lot of sweets, especially when they heard I was eating double scoops. The session would entail eating a vanilla scoop at each establishment (the control scoop) and another "wild card" scoop that would vary at each place. It definitely got challenging in the end, mostly due to poor strategizing (again!), but it was considerably easier eating the 8 item minimum on this journey than on any previous session. I exceeded the minimum by only 3 cones, but if I had planned better and had only a few hours extra to work with, I’m quite certain I could have polished off close to 20 cones. Really.

It was interesting that this was the first item where I got kind of tired of the item long before I got full. Many people love sweets and have no strong attachment to any savory food. They think they would love to eat dessert all day and nothing else. I’m here to tell them that they're wrong. After a while, your body needs more than sugar. You need something to break it up. I craved savory all day, but I couldn’t allow myself to eat anything but ice cream, due to limited stomach capacity. There I was, not in the least bit full, but the idea of eating any more ice cream just didn’t appeal to me. Even with fish and chips, the Everest of IEM sessions, I never got bored of them. I just felt like crap. However, after the fish and chips session, it took me over a year before I had even the slightest desire to even look at them again; I was eating ice cream again just a couple of days after this session. Ice cream is powerful stuff.

I really wish I could’ve eaten more that day. Despite my feelings of sugar fatigue prior to each entry after about #5, every cone was a joy after I started licking. That is, until I got miserably full towards the end. I’m not too picky when it comes to ice cream. I can definitely taste the difference between the crappy stuff and the good stuff. But if I’m offered a scoop of that off-brand stuff they sell in a 3 gallon bucket for $3.27, I’ll eat it gladly and I'll enjoy it! No matter what the foodies say, unless it’s VERY freezer burnt, ice cream is always good, even when you’ve already eaten 11 double scoop cones and your teeth are starting to hurt as much as your stomach.

Eating Day: August 10, 2008

1. NIEVES CINCO DE MAYO- 3340 E.12th St (in Fruitvale Market), Oakland- 12:55pm- Vanilla & Corn- $2.75

Cinco de Mayo is tucked inside the Fruitvale Village complex. I think the idea there was to have sort of an indoor mall with lots of local independent merchants, but as of now, they only seem to have a coffee vendor, the ice cream shop, and a “healthy” taqueria, which is obviously aimed at yuppies who take BART to work from the Fruitvale Station, because the locals don’t give a shit if their taco pork comes from Niman Ranch. And neither do I! The whole plaza around the BART is part of some neighborhood renewal thing, but I don’t see any locals eating at the sushi place or at Powderface (the coffee/beignet place), so the whole concept seems more like an attempt at gentrification. I’d rather wander out onto on International or walk up Fruitvale. The prices are better there and unlike Fruitvale Village, you don’t feel like you're inside a yuppie enclave within the barrio. Other than the churro place, Cinco De Mayo, and the tiny farmer’s market on Sunday, I don’t really have much use for this complex.

Kelly ate at Cinco de Mayo once before, but when she did, I instead opted for a churro from the stand in front of Fruitvale Village, where they serve freshly-fried churros that you can get stuffed with pudding! Why I didn’t get ice cream AND a churro is a mystery. Cinco de Mayo has a lot of flavors you won’t find anywhere else, some of which are inspired by items you’d find in the many markets and Mexican restaurants in the Fruitvale. They have rompope (a egg nog-like liqueur), horchata, avocado, cinnamon, hawthorn, rose petal, and “curled milk”, to name a few. The stuff has a really homemade feel to it. Don’t be surprised if you find chunks of unknown stuff floating around in your scoop and a goodly amount of ice crystals. It’s sort of lo-fi ice cream that way. The corn ice cream was crazy. It was sweet, but not overly so, and rather than being creamy, it had a chunky milkiness to it. It was a great change of pace from “regular” ice cream. And the corn flavor was intense. It was like chewing on a mouthful of Niblets and then gargling with the corn for a while before you swallow. The vanilla had the same texture as the corn. Since it was pretty yellow, I imagine that it has a bit of egg in it. It had slight cinnamon/nutmeg undertones, but also the faintest taste of alcohol, which is either from vanilla extract or perhaps some kind of a liqueur used in the mix. It was okay, but with all of the other flavors available here, I really wouldn’t order it again. Kelly ordered the cheese ice cream, which was mindblowing. I don’t know what kind of cheese they’re using, but combining the corn and the cheese would be an unbeatable combination. I loved sitting there in the sun eating that wacky ice cream watching the dude make churros, but since we had such a late start, we had to get into the city and start eating with a quickness.

2. MARCO POLO ITALIAN ICE CREAM- 1447 Taraval St. (@24th Ave.), San Francisco- 2:30pm- Vanilla & Arcoboleno- $2.80

Getting from Oakland to the hinterlands of San Francisco on a Sunday afternoon is a fucking nightmare. We took the secret back entrance that leads to the Bay Bridge toll plaza, and ONLY wound up sitting in traffic on the bridge with our thumbs up our asses for 30 minutes. But as soon as we started making our way across the city to the Outer Sunset, we became painfully aware of how long this journey was. It took about an hour and 20 minutes to make that entire trip, which according to Google, is just over 22 miles. Feh! Some may say that we were crazy to go out to the Sunset at all, but those people are morons. I lived in San Francisco for about 2 years in the late 90’s and that was long enough for me. As I’ve stated before, that place makes me crazy. Yes, it’s beautiful. Yes, there’s lots to see and do. Yes, there are tons of neato neighborhoods. Yes, there are a kazillion restaurants and some of them are actually as good as their hype. However, getting around the town is a pain in my sac; and as cool as the city is, I don’t think it’s worth all of its costs and challenges to live there. I would agree to live in SF again only if the following conditions were met:

  • 50% of the population must leave town.

  • The average rent on a 2 bedroom must be reduced to $700.

  • I would only live in the Outer Sunset (preferably further west than 40th Ave. and below Noriega.)

People who don’t live in the Sunset would say this is crazy talk. They’d say I was a fool to want to live where it’s foggy almost year round, where there’s nothing “happening”, and where you’re more likely to see an old Chinese lady in purple sweatpants than a schmuck in vintage Levi’s so tight that you can tell his religion. This is all true, but I love the Sunset. It’s not as crowded, you can find a parking place, there’s very few douchebags posturing, and there are no child’s portions disguised as haute cuisine in the eateries. This is one of the few neighborhoods left in SF that is neither a haven for multi-millionaires nor a playground for edgy people who look like they came out of a magazine that I’m not cool enough to read. And most of all, I like being so close to the ocean.

I know that gelato is the big thing right now, but I’m just not getting the excitement. I’ve only tried it a few times, but in my limited experience, it tastes like semi-melted ice cream. I hadn’t planned on going to any gelato places on this session, but unbeknownst to me, Marco Polo serves gelato. They were doing slow business when we arrived, probably because it was freezing out there and nobody felt much like ice cream. Like pretty much every other business in the Outer Sunset, this place is apparently run by Asian folks, so don’t go out there expecting to find some kind of authentic Italian experience. The kid behind the counter looked really bored. We were probably his first customers of the day. Arcoboleno is apparently a mix of vanilla, chocolate, pistachio, and almond. I think it’s of Filipino origin. I know it’s probably supposed to taste kind of high-fallutin’, but it just reminded me of opening a carton of Safeway Neopolitan ice cream and discovering that the strawberry third had already been eaten and the other 2/3 of the carton were starting to melt. Every lick pulled the stuff into a kind of a stretchy strand. Sure, It tasted fine, but it didn’t really feel like ice cream. And the flavor really wasn’t knocking my socks off any more than a decent store brand ice cream. The vanilla had the same wacky texture, but the flavor was a lot more pronounced than the arcoboleno, with a vanilla bean taste much stronger than Cinco de Mayo's vanilla. It really didn’t come across any better than a good quality soft serve cone, though. Like Cinco de Mayo, Marco Polo is on the cheap side of the ice cream spectrum. The scoops are a little bit smaller at Marco Polo, but if you like gelato, I would recommend this place because it’s about the cheapest gelato you’re ever gonna find around these parts. Plus, they serve some exotic Asian/tropical flavors you probably won’t find at the more la-di-da places: melon, durian, soursop, red bean, etc.

3.POLLY ANN- 3138 Noriega (@39th Ave), SF- 2:53pm- Vanilla & Macapuno- $4.25

It was pretty sunny, but the wind was making it quite frigid in the Sunset. I had a jacket on, but I was wishing I had worn a parka, especially since I was eating all of that ice cream. I was getting really hungry for savory foods, too. Other than the ice cream, all I’d eaten that day were a few “Limon” Lay’s potato chips to cleanse my palate between flavors. Those chips are awful. Whose idea was this flavor? Fake lime flavor doesn’t taste like lime. It just tastes kind of sour and makes your tongue feel funny. I suppose they served their purpose, though.

I used to have a girlfriend that lived way out there off of Noriega. It took her an hour to get from her apartment on 44th Ave. to her job near the Embarcadero, either on the N-Judah or the 71 bus. (Note: Another proviso to my qualifications for living in SF is I would also have to WORK in the Sunset, because I’ll be damned if I would do that kind of a bus ride to go 5 miles.) I’m pretty sure I ate at Polly Ann back then, but I don’t remember it being like this. It's covered with signs that have funny and/or corny slogans on them. Here are some of the better ones: "Everyone that enters this place makes us happy; some when they arrive, some when they leave.” “If they don’t have ice cream in heaven, I’m not going.” “If there’s anything a depressed person hates, it’s a cheerful person.” In addition to the signs, there’s a big roulette-style wheel behind the counter that lists all of their available flavors. If you can’t decide on a flavor, the counterperson will spin the wheel to help you make up your mind. They probably got tired of people asking them to recommend one of their gazillion flavors. (If the wheel lands on a “Free” space, the cone is free.) Like Marco Polo, Polly Ann also specializes in Asian/Tropical flavors, but in ice cream form, rather than gelato. Some of the more interesting ones were honeydew and pomegranate. They also have Bumpy Freeway, their own version of Rocky Road.

I’d heard of Macapuno before, but never ordered it. It’s young coconut, also a Fillipino flavor, if I’m not mistaken. This stuff was out of this world. I was in utter ecstasy eating this scoop. It was so creamy and perfectly sweet and every lick was like French kissing the inside of a coconut. There was coconut flavor in the ice cream base itself, plus there were little chunks of coconut in there. Unlike the gelato, the stuff was lickable, and not all stretchy. Eating ice cream is much more satisfying to me than gelato when licking it from a cone. I could see enjoying gelato with a spoon, where it would be more like cold pudding, but in a cone, I have no use for it. The vanilla scoop had the same creamy consistency as the macapuno, with even more vanilla flavor than the Marco Polo scoop. Strangely, the vanilla-ness seemed to increase with every lick. It’s true that the cone here costs almost twice as much as the Cinco de Mayo cone, but they also give you almost twice as much ice cream. Not only that, there’s a bathroom in this place. Three of my favorite things on Earth are the Outer Sunset, huge ice cream cones filled with awesome flavors, and a clean public bathroom. Poly Ann is for real.

4. MITCHELL'S- 688 San Jose Ave. (@29th St.), SF- 3:38pm- Vanilla & Halo Halo- $4.80

As expected, getting to the Mission from Noriega was a schlep and a half. Why didn’t they bore a big tunnel in that hill so I wouldn’t have to wait so long between ice cream cones? The city planner’s office never consults me about anything. Mitchell’s has been around for more than 50 years. It’s an institution that specializes in a lot of the same Filipino/Asian flavors that they had at Polly Ann’s. In addition to their famous ice cream store, they sell their ice cream to various other stores throught the Bay Area. (FYI, St. Francis Fountain on 24th St. serves Mitchell’s.) There is always a line at Mitchell’s with many of the same “ethnic” types you see out at Polly Ann’s, but there’s also a goodly number of Mission yuppie-hipsters, who sometimes make me want to move back to Iowa.

You take a number and wait to be served by the young clerks sequestered behind glass like at a check-cashing place. I waited about 10 minutes until they called my number over the P.A. I was surprised to be served so fast, considering how long the line was, but they seem to have their business down to a science. Halo Halo is a Filipino flavor that is a mix of Buko (baby coconut), Langka (jackfruit), Ube (purple yam), Pineapple, Mango, and Sweet Beans. It was ridiculously creamy and soft, but not elastic like gelato. Despite its exotic ingredients,the flavor was very subtle and reminded me of whatever flavor that was in those purple Push-Ups they sold at public swimming pools/little league games in my childhood. It was sort of a letdown. I figured it would blow my brains out, but it was just sort of there. The vanilla on the other hand, was even better than Polly Ann’s version with a really strong vanilla taste. The fat content here has to be off the charts because every lick seemed to coat my tongue with grease as if I had been licking uncooked bacon. I loved it. I’ll definitely return there to see how their Macapuno compares to Polly Ann’s and I need to try the Coconut-Pineapple and some of the seasonal flavors. The scoops here were quite big, but I still wasn’t near full and was really craving something non-sweet. Adding any unnecessary volume to my gut was out of the question, though, so I convinced myself I could remain satisfied with eating more ice cream. This actually worked for a little while.

5. MAGGIE MUDD- 930 Cortland Ave (@Folsom), SF- 4:10pm- Vanilla & Bear Claw- $3.60

I can’t believe I lived in the Bay Area for as long as I have without ever going into Bernal Heights. You know the residential district on the hill above Mission St. where you often have to park when you go to the Argus, Knockout, El Rio, etc? For some stupid reason, I always thought THAT was Bernal Heights. Nope. If you go out on Mission and take a left on Cortland, there’s an actual business district about a mile from Mission St. This is a really old neighborhood. There are some of the usual Victorian type houses you see in the rest of SF, but also a lot of structures that seem to pre-date the Victorians. With the views of the bay and all of the old-timey buildings, I bet this was a really neato place to live not too long ago. Unfortunately, it’s now jam-packed with a bunch of rich “earthy” couples and their offspring, who are undoubtedly big proponents of the dubious Slow Food movement. The women all looked way too old to have babies, so I suspect some sort of genetic funny business is afoot in Bernal Heights. (I love pigeonholing people!) Am I jealous I don’t get to sit around on my keester like they do and enjoy their scenic views? Of course I am! But that doesn’t mean they’re still not a bunch of douches who I wouldn’t want to take an elevator ride with, let alone share a meal with. Despite the vibe of Bernal Heights, it was surprisingly easy to find parking in the neighborhood.

In keeping with the neighborhood's vibe, in addition to regular dairy-based ice cream, Maggie Mudd’s also features dairy-free ice cream facsimiles and not just the usual soy-based stuff. They even have a coconut milk based product. I’ve got to hand it to them for trying something different. I returned here after the session to try the coconut milk stuff and it was actually the best non-dairy ersatz ice cream I’ve ever had. As for the real ice cream, their product is decent. It definitely is not as much of a “craft” type product as some of the other places on this trip. It was more like a Ben & Jerry’s experience, though probably fresher than the Ben & Jerry’s in the Safeway freezer case. Nothing wrong with being like B&J at all, but it just doesn’t have that uniqueness to it that some of the other places had. I expected Bearclaw to be some sort of donut-type concoction, but it was actually a chocolate-based ice cream with chocolate-covered nuts inside. I’m not the biggest fan of chocolate-based ice creams in general, being more of vanilla/butter-based advocate, but it was good for what it was. I might’ve liked it even better if I wasn’t so amped to get ice cream with donut chunks, though. It was pretty creamy stuff and had a lot of nuts in it. And they didn’t seem to cheap out and use crummy chocolate in the base. The vanilla was just so-so compared with some of the others on this trip- not too vanilla-y. Once again, it was a pretty creamy consistency, but I’m certain neither flavor has anywhere near the kind of fat content they’re working with at Mitchell’s. If you live in the area, you're probably a yutz, but I would totally recommend you visit this place. And if you’re a vegan or lactose intolerant, you MUST go here.

The highlight of the visit was watching the 2 teen Filipinas eating their ice cream cones. When that obnoxious “I Kissed a Girl” song came on over the radio, they began looking into each other’s seductively while they licked their cones, giggling all the time. They pretended to make out a little, without actually touching lips. Kids, this is San Francisco. Didn't you see? There were some real-live lesbians just in there ordering ice cream. Your faux gayness is not shocking anybody! It’s just cute.

6. BI-RITE- 3692 18th St. (@Dolores), SF- 4:44pm- Vanilla & Balsamic Strawberry- $3.25

I didn’t think it would ever happen, but I was finally starting to feel a little full from the ice cream. The SF summer was even colder than usual. It didn’t even warm up when we arrived in the heart of the “sunny” Mission District. It was gray and windy, not the weather you want while you’re eating ice cream. Bi-Rite is some sort of “slow food”-affiliated establishment, so I wasn’t expecting much from them. They’re big on letting you know how their organic/sustainable dairy supplier is only 45 miles away and all their spoons and cups are biodegradable. I always figure a place who tries too hard to do all of that shit is gonna give me a skimpy cone that does not live up to its high-brow pedigree. That’s great that you’re not hurting the Earth and your honey lavender flavor is “created with organic dried lavender and honey that is gathered on Mint Hill,” but if the ice cream doesn’t pack a heavy punch, I’m really not impressed.

The line at this place dwarfs Mitchell’s line. And there’s no kind of orderly number system at Bi-Rite to ensure everything moves smoothly. If it wasn’t so cold the day I went, I reckon the line could have been much longer. And the people in this line were possibly the most annoying examples of Bay Area in-your-face “progressives” that I’d experienced on a session. There were so many hipsters, so many sexually alternative types, so many vegan stockbrokers, etc, etc. All of them diligently living up to their stereotype, lest a tourist mistake them for a fellow rube. An androgynous bicyclist in the usual uniform was talking loudly and carrying a bell on a stick, doing a conspicuous jig as s/he pored over the list of available flavors. S/he clearly wanted everybody in line to know how liberated s/he was. I get it, sir/lady, you have an alternative lifestyle unencumbered by the fetters of the mainstream. Brava/bravo! But alas, your show is over now, so order your goddamn cone, hop on your Turdmobile, and get the hell out of here.

If I wasn’t in the midst of a session, this San Francisco-fied nonsense coupled with the wait and the cold would’ve been enough to make me pick up a half gallon of the store brand stuff at Safeway. But my patience with the lines and the freaks was rewarded. The ice cream there is otherworldly. Like Cinco de Mayo, you can tell the stuff there is really homemade. It really has that human/artisan (hate that word, but it applies here) touch that you don’t get when an ice cream was made in large batches by a large machine. The balsamic strawberry didn’t taste like balsamic vinegar and it didn’t have frozen chunks of fruit. It had the most delicate strawberry flavor and a very dense, creamy consistency. It was not melting quickly. I could have gone for some chunks of strawberries in there, but the ice cream on its own was definitely a thing of beauty. The vanilla, however, was something else. This is probably the best vanilla ice cream I’ve ever experienced. Kelly said it was reminiscent of the homemade vanilla ice cream she had as a child and I can see where she’s coming from. There were vanilla bean flecks everywhere and the most intense vanilla flavor I could imagine. It had kind of a pudding aftertaste, but despite the obviously high fat content, it didn’t give me the greasy tongue I got at Mitchell’s. People often use "vanilla" to describe something bland or ordinary, but that does not describe this stuff. This is hardcore vanilla and worth any amount of goofy San Francisco-isms you must endure to get it. I got a sample of the Salted Caramel and I have to say that flavor was even better than the balsamic strawberry. Putting the salted caramel and vanilla on one cone might induce a standing wet dream.

7. BOMBAY- 552 Valencia (@17th St.), SF- 5:11pm- Vanilla & Mango- $4.95

After the Bi-Rite cone, I was almost entering the uncomfortable state that usually occurs much earlier in an eating session. I was not in any sort of real pain, mind you, but was almost at that point where civilized people shun food for several hours. And while I was completely over ice cream, I wasn’t anywhere near that place where I’m ready to throw in the towel. Ice cream is a weak foe compared to the likes of falafel. Bombay was just a few blocks from Bi-Rite, so we didn’t have to move the car! When in SF, it takes little more than a good parking space to make me happy. Bombay does pretty slow business compared to Bi-Rite. There are no lines and no signs talking about how politically correct their ice cream is. The have similar flavors to the “Asian” stuff found at Mitchell’s and PollyAnn’s, but a few are uniquely Indian, like Bedam Kesar Pista, Chai Tea, Saffron Rose, and Cardamom. I probably should have ordered one of those, but I had heard good things about the Mango.

I’m not a huge fan of mango in general. It’s what I call a “low percentage fruit.” That means that for every 10 fruits eaten, less than 5 are tasty. I would rate mango somewhere around 30%. I’m generally let down when I eat one. Perhaps I just don’t know how to pick a good one or maybe I only like them at a certain point of ripeness. (FYI, watermelon and pineapple are probably the highest percentage fruits, both hovering in the high 70’s/low 80’s.)

I figured correctly that the mango ice cream would not include that funky mango flavor I can’t stand, but I still wasn’t really that into it. I think bigger mango fans would enjoy it more, though, because Kelly really dug it and said it had an intense mango flavor. To me, it tasted like the “Fruit” flavor Trident gum (in the orange wrapper) from the old days. Not terrible, but not what I was expecting. Also, I’m pretty sure their freezer was kind of messed up, because the stuff was melting rapidly, even though the outside temperature was in the low 60’s that day. Even in its mushy state, you could tell the stuff had a really high fat content and I felt that tongue-film I had experienced at Mitchell’s, which I find somewhat satisfying. The vanilla really wasn’t anything special, though. It was kind of like ice milk (do they even make that anymore?) and the vanilla flavor was pretty wimpy. It might be better on its own, but coupled with a strong flavor like mango, it really got lost. I wouldn’t recommend ordering it. There are more interesting flavors to be had here and this kind of pedestrian vanilla seems unnecessary. I’ll definitely return here for the other flavors and I liked the Bollywood music they played and the mural of Bombay-ites eating triple scoop cones. According to their sign and website, they also serve Indian chaat (street food) like samosas, daal, etc, but I could neither smell nor see any of that stuff. For all I know, they had put the hot food in the freezer and that what was causing the ice cream to melt so fast.

8. ICI- 2948 College (@Ashby), Berkeley- 7:04pm- Vanilla & Peppercorn- $4.75

After sitting on the Bay Bridge in traffic for about 45 minutes, we arrived at Sketch, a chi-chi ice cream place on 4th Street in Berkeley, about 5 minutes after they closed. That whole street is like the third concentric circle of hell, so I’m guessing I didn’t miss much. By the time we got up to College and Ashby, another Berkeley douche-haven, I was actually starting to get pretty hungry; hungry for ice cream, even. The line at Ici is ridiculous. People wait here for up to an hour to get a scoop of what they think is the ice cream equivalent of Beluga caviar. The place was started by the former pastry chef of Chez Panisse, so they’re all about using the “best” ingredients and charging you too much for waiting in line so you can be seen with a bunch of other a-holes.

By the time it was my turn to order, I was so hungry I was ready to gnaw off my own foot. Guess what? Peppercorn ice cream tastes like peppercorn. It was in some sort of white ice cream base and was very creamy. It was a little sweet, but the peppercorn flavor was definitely front and center. Is that good or bad? I don’t know. It tasted like peppercorn. I kind of grew on me as I ate it, but I don’t see myself ordering this again. It’s just not the kind of sensation I crave when I want ice cream. The bourbon vanilla was also insanely creamy with a very strong vanilla flavor, but no trace of bourbon. It was one of the better vanilla offerings of the day. Another plus is the cone. The bottom of the cone is coated with what appears to be melted chocolate chips. In addition to being delicious, it reinforces the cone and prevents hole-drippage.

It is not in dispute that the ice cream here is good. It’s clear that the purveyors have a commitment to making an artistically excellent product. But is it worth 4.75 and an interminable wait for 2 scoops barely larger than golf balls? The short answer is fuck, no. The longer answer is, Chez Panisse and all of Alice Waters’ disciples can eat a dick. Yeah, it’s great that they only use organic, locally grown products and make everything with the utmost precision with a high regard to presentation. But I can’t help thinking that they only do this stuff so they can brag about how esoteric they are and charge exorbitant prices, even when they serve portions that would leave a newborn hungry. When I think about how this back-to-basics approach is relegated to rich people and pretentious cocksuckers, it makes me want go eat a Hot Pocket and a Caramel Drumstick. To be fair, Bi-Rite is traveling in the same circles as Ici, but their double scoop cone was $1.50 less, considerably larger, and had even better flavor. And their line moved a lot faster. I endorse them fully, despite all of their goofy affectations. Unless Ici lowers their prices and starts serving much bigger cones, Je ne mange pas Ici!

I certainly didn’t get full eating the Ici cone. Kelly bought me a sandwich while I was waiting there. It was a thoughtful attempt to allow me to eat something other than ice cream before I went to the next place, but the next place was Fenton’s, so I wasn’t about to eat anything before I got there.

9. FENTON'S- 4226 Piedmont (@ Entrada), Oakland- 7:04pm- Vanilla & Butter Brickle- $4.25

Like Ici, Fenton’s has a long line, but it moves pretty quickly, if you’re just getting a cone to go. Fenton’s is the anti-Ici. While Ici tastes like it was made by hand, Fenton’s has sort of a commercially-made essence to it, even though their product is also made on the premises. I’m not denigrating Fenton’s, you understand. It’s just that their ice cream doesn’t have the imperfections you’re going to see at a place like Ici or Bi-Rite. It’s almost like comparing apples and oranges, though. Sometimes you want a more muscular ice cream and you don’t care how “artisinal” it is. Unless you grew up in some sort of naked-free-love commune in Humboldt County , Fenton’s is going to recall the ice cream of your youth much more than Ici. Fenton’s isn’t pretentious. They’re not trying to impress anybody with their prestigious Slow Food pedigree and they’re not offering flavors like peppercorn so shit-heels can discuss the ice cream like it was wine. They want to give you fatty, old-timey ice cream in portions that will bring even an experienced glutton to his knees. The single scoop at Fenton’s is substantially larger than the double scoop at just about every place I visited. And Fenton’s double scoop is just stupidly large. Each scoop is the size of a regulation softball, so balancing both scoops on a mere sugar cone can be precarious.

Fenton’s vanilla reminds me of summer camp. Despite it’s semi-commercial qualities, it surpassed Ici’s offering. The stuff was impossibly rich and creamy with a strong vanilla flavor and sweeter than should be allowed by law. It definitely wasn’t “complex”, but so what? It’s ice cream, not Pinot Grigio, chump! The butter brickle was jam-packed with brickle, what ever that is, and the base was like licking a stick of butter rolled in sugar. I defy anyone to eat this ice cream without grabbing his/her own crotch in joy.

A few years back, Fenton’s almost burned to the ground and was closed for almost 2 years. It was a sad time for me. I heard the structure was apparently torched by some disgruntled employees who were retaliating against the management. Normally, my inclination is to side with the proletariat over “the Man” in all cases. However, whatever the management had done, removing this noble ice cream from the masses was not an appropriate form of direct action. But now I was mad at Fenton’s for another reason. They had become my Ali Baba (see Falafel session.) Eating 2 scoops here was the equivalent of eating 3-4 cones anywhere else and I doubted I could go much further after eating Fenton’s so late in the day. But since we had such a late start and ice cream places close early on Sunday, I had to get a move on.

10. LOARD'S- 2265 South Shore Mall (Next to Appelbee's), Alameda- 8:30pm- Vanilla & Avocado- $3.95

Eating at Fenton’s before Ici (rather than vice versa) would’ve been a smart move, but eating at Loard’s after Fenton’s just added insult to injury. It was at this point in the session where I began to feel like I could die of a food overdose, a sensation that comes much earlier during other sessions. As I shuffled from my car to Loard’s, I wondered if I could possibly put another ounce of ice cream in my scoop-hole after Fenton’s did me like that. This shopping center is now called Alameda Towne Centre, recently changed from South Shore Mall, but whatever you call it, it felt like it would be the site where I would cover an ice cream parlor with shit and vomit. That would’ve been a shame, because Loard’s is a cute place, with olde-fashioned d├ęcor reminiscent of Farrell’s, which I loved so much as a kid. They even have ice cream parlor chairs- in an ice cream parlor! They’re a small chain with about a dozen Bay Area locations and they make their own ice cream at a small factory in San Leandro. Like Maggie Mudd’s, you occasionally will even see their stuff at grocery stores, too. It's sort of like a cross between Mitchell’s and Fenton’s, as they do some of the weirdo tropical/Asian flavors, but they don’t really seem to play them up as much as Mitchell’s does. Like Fenton’s, they have that sort of homemade-commercial quality and they serve big (not as big as Fenton’s, though) scoops.

The place was empty when we arrived, save for the teen girl employees who sat around looking bored and singing along to the R&B station playing over the speakers. I don’t know what to say about the avocado ice cream other than it was an ungodly shade of bright green and I guess it tasted like avocado with sugar in it. I don’t know why I expected it to be anything else, but I’m of the close-minded opinion that avocado is better savory than sweet. Eating an entire maxi-scoop of that stuff after Fenton’s was difficult. The vanilla was similar to Fenton’s, especially in consistency, but the vanilla flavor was a little toned down at Loard’s. I suppose that was for the best in this case, because mixing strong vanilla with avocado might not be the best combination in my condition.

I really thought I might pass out from butterfat poisoning. I felt my bowels twitch and since Loard’s had a bathroom (YES!), I attempted to take full advantage of the toilet. I had to go behind the counter to get back there, walking pass the teen girl employees’ newly-arrived gay friend. I swear that guy checked me out! It was the first time in my life I get checked out by a gay dude and I was too stuffed with ice cream to enjoy it- the story of my life. I sat down, but nothing happened except a little tinkle and a lot of noxious gas. If you’ve ever been inside a dairy, you know what it smelled like in Loard’s bathroom. Don't go in there, gay dude!

11. TUCKER'S- 1349 Park Street (@Alameda Ave.), Alameda - 9:00pm- Vanilla & Pralines & Cream- $4.75

Due to the time, after Tucker's, there was little chance that I could eat a cone anywhere else other than Merritt Bakery, who stays open to midnight on Sundays. I’m not sure how Fenton’s, Loard’s, and Tucker’s got saved for last. This was the pinnacle of poor planning. All I can do is blame the snafu on the late start and the logistical nightmare of navigating San Francisco. If I was smart, I would’ve started with Tucker’s and ended with Fenton’s, or at least spaced the 2 out several hours apart. Other than Fenton’s, which dwarfs all other ice cream cones, and possibly Polly Ann’s, Tucker’s was the biggest cone of the day. This was not how I wanted to end this session.

Tucker’s, an Alameda institution since 1941, has a great slogan on their t-shirts, which is also painted on their wall, “Life is uncertain. Eat dessert first.” These are definitely words to live by, but I HAD eaten dessert first (and second and third and fourth) and was now certain that I didn’t want to eat anymore dessert. I got my cone and when I saw how big the scoops were, I knew there was no way in hell I could eat it in my state. I took a couple of tastes and could not believe that the stuff still tasted good to me. Their pralines and cream was so much richer than the Baskin-Robbins version I got almost everyday after school during my sophomore year of high school. It was loaded with walnuts (or are they pecans?) and the amount of caramel in there is just ridiculous. The ice cream base is so buttery, sweet, and creamy that one scoop of this would’ve challenged many people eating on an empty stomach. This is without question the best version of this flavor I’ve ever tried. The vanilla has a very strong vanilla taste and is also very creamy and sweet. I think Tucker’s may be working with more sugar and butterfat content than just about anybody out there, which would’ve been great under standard conditions. But in my state, all I could do was lick, elicit a brief smile of joy, but then grimace in discomfort. I just couldn’t eat anymore. I got a cup and put the cone in there scoop side down. Yes, I had already eaten the 8 item minimum, but this stuff was too good and too expensive to throw away. I took the cone home and put it in the freezer, determined to eat it when I got my second wind.

I sat down on the couch and opened my belt and farted for close to 5 minutes straight until the gas knocked me unconscious. I woke around 11:30. I went to the bathroom and produced a khaki-colored B.M. that had the consistency and volume of a institutional-sized can of Duncan Hines cake frosting. Our tiny bathroom smelled like the livestock building at the Iowa State Fair. I sprayed air freshener liberally, but it was no match for my khaki dung heap. After the nap and the defecation, I was fully restored and famished. I ate the grilled ham and cheese sandwich Kelly had bought me while I waited in line at Ici. It was cold now and the cheese was congealed, but after eating nothing but ice cream all day, I ate that sandwich like a man who had been stranded in the Sahara for a month. After the sandwich, I was still starving. The cupboard was pretty bare, except for a few items that would require much more preparation effort than I was willing to exert at that late hour. And then I remembered the Tucker’s cone in the freezer.

Maybe it was because of the ridiculously high fat content, but the ice cream didn’t even stick to the paper cup they had given me. The naysayers said I would be totally sick of ice cream for months after this session. They were wrong. Here I was less than an hour after finishing my last cone, devouring the Tucker’s cone in orgasmic bliss. It was even more sensually exciting than the first cone of the day. Ice cream is better than your or me. It doesn’t subscribe to the rules of nature. You can eat it all day and it will make you feel like a fighting dog beaten mercilessly after a loss in the pit, but only a couple of hours later, you will embrace your master and beg for more. I've actually met people in my life who’ve told me that they don’t like ice cream. I looked at them as if they had said, "I don’t breathe air." It’s a totally incomprehensible statement. People breathe air and people love ice cream. Those are 2 of life's certainties. Ice cream is your God.

Best Vanilla

  • Bi Rite
  • Fenton's
  • Mitchell's

Best Wildcard Flavors

  • Macapuno (Polly Ann)
  • Pralines and Cream (Tucker's)
  • Corn (Cinco De Mayo)

Next Time (Probably November): BBQ Pork Sandwiches- In Memphis, TN