By now, you've made the rounds and have tried all of the newest treats designed to start melting the minute you hit the summer pavement, a fleeting pleasure at its best. You've tried the bizarre ice cream flavors just to be able to tell the tale on a deep, dark February night. You've followed the Twitter feeds to track the trucks and carts, and you've eaten all the artisan popsicles and organic Slurpees this city has to offer. You've worn summer out.
But lurking beneath the glossy veneer of this trendiest of food trends is a deep-set New York City summer ritual that existed long before anyone got the idea to slap a pop culture reference and some sea salt onto it and call it cool. New York Augusts have always been an endurance test, and people have been coming up with ways to soothe the burn for years. Most of these shiny new set-ups were built on the back of this tradition, playing with established tastes and techniques to develop their signature offerings. Take these last few minutes of summer to dig into the backstory, so you'll really have something to talk about come February.
At the Hester Street Fair is the Shaved Ice Shop, young adorables constructing Taiwanese-style desserts. While the uninitiated might see these extravagant slops of fruit, ice cream and candy mounded on a towering base of finely shaved ice as an exercise in hipster excess, these are a curated, cutesified rendition of a very traditional treat. At Excellent Pork Chop House (3 Doyers St. betw. Bowery and Pell Sts.), a no-nonsense restaurant that does, in fact, serve excellent pork chops to Taiwanese ex-pats, build your own real deal from the Taiwanese Ice section of the menu. Pick three items from a list that includes tapioca pearls, jellies, sweet beans and corn (yes, kernel corn-trust them) or, if the thought of building a logical dessert from these schizophrenic components gives you a preemptive brainfreeze, go with the "random" option and get ready to excavate the sugared rubble.
Doug Quint took a Mr. Softee truck and turned soft serve into a kitsch paradise with the Big Gay Ice Cream Truck, with specials like the Salty Pimp and toppings that include artisanal sauces, cookies and unexpected spice combinations. An instant hit, the crowds can be hard to fight, even with their recent storefront opening (125 E. 7th St. betw. 1st Ave. and Ave. A). When your sugar rush just can't wait, turn the corner to Ray's Candy Store (113 Ave. A betw E. 7th and 8th Sts.), where soft serve (as well as milkshakes, egg creams and malteds) has been on offer for over 40 years. If you're so inclined, get a cone and a bag of chips from the glassed-in cases behind the counter and create your own stoner-inspired masterpiece.
And while the West Village's Imperial Woodpecker may have closed the gates on their sno-balls served in Chinese take-out containers at the end of August, the raspado sellers along Delancey Street, with their blocks of ice and traditional Mexican blades promise to keep coming out as long as the weather stays on their side. Their flavors aren't as numerous as Woodpecker's were, but they are similarly obtuse. What's the difference between the fuchsia syrup and the pink? What, exactly, did Tiger Blood taste like? You could ask, of course, but the surprise is half the fun. No matter what color you get, be sure to add a healthy pour of condensed milk over the top, the sticky richness counterpointing the syrup's sticky sweetness, leaving you utterly sticky. Find a hose or a water fountain to rinse the outdoors off for the last time before the icicles set in, and start working on those wintertime stories.
Top photo: the brand-new Big Gay Ice Cream Shop;
From left to right: Ray's Candy Store offers more than just ice cream; The Big Gay Ice Cream Truck's Cococone, vanilla soft serve dipped in curried coconut flakes; treats won't melt the minute you hit the streets for much longer. Photos by Caitlyn Bierman
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