For the longest time I thought Cones was an Italian owned gelateria. The signs on the walls even call the stuff gelato. And the mouthfeel of the frozen treats are definitely more dense and richer than your typical ice cream.
But just because this stuff is made like gelato doesn’t mean it has to be from Italian hands. The owners of Cones are two brothers from Argentina. Not the first place you think of when you think ice cream. It turns out the South American country has a huge ice cream culture and a rich dairy history. The brothers brought their unique flavors and rich artisanal ice cream to the West Village in 1999.
And since then it’s been a very popular ice cream destination. Despite the strange, retro 70’s feel of the store, many celebrities have been sighted here (based on the photos on the door) and local families pop in throughout the day. It doesn’t seem to be much of a tourist destination, which adds to that neighborhood vibe.
All the ice cream is made on premises in the back and once in a while, you can witness the funny sight of a big South American guy in his pretty little apron appear from the back with a tub full of freshly made ice cream. They add nothing to their product but the usual suspects: milk, cream, sugar, and flavor.
And you can really tell when you taste the ice cream. It tastes like it’s supposed to – not like artificial syrup or sweeteners. It sort of justifies the hefty price tag. And once upon a time, I would think it was ludicrous to pay five bucks for a small cone. But times have changed and as is evidenced by almost all the shops I’ve visited, ice cream these days ain’t cheap.
But Cones takes the cake (or the cone, if you will) with their high end special. It’s both double the price (that’s almost 10 bucks for a small!) and costs a dollar to sample. That special flavor changes with the season, but I was lucky enough to sample (for a dollar fee, of course) the Kumquat with Johnnie Walker Black. A Scotch kumquat ice cream? This is my kind of place.
I don’t know if it was worth the buck for a spoonful, but it was really intense with a balanced sweet tartness and the extra flavor of the alcohol. I could definitely eat a whole order of this – although my wallet and wasteline wouldn’t approve.
Instead, I did some more sampling – for free this time! The corn tasted just like sweet corn and the server added a sprinkle of cinnamon to bring out the flavors. This was for the sample alone. They really take their tastings seriously.
I also tried the maté (strong South American tea) which had a sweet and spicy flavor that was a bit reminiscent of matcha. And the banana which didn’t have that artificial medicine flavor that often comes with using flavor extracts. This was the real thing.
I could have spent the entire night sampling their ice creams, but for the sake of their business and my social life, I finally settled on a cup of white chocolate. This one is a challenge because I know how difficult it can be to get that subtle white chocolate flavor into a creamy, smooth ice cream.
It felt a little grainy at first, but I realized that was because they used melted white chocolate pieces. I enjoyed the contrast of the chocolate bits to the creamy base. It also really gave it that feeling of being homemade. It wasn’t so far off from the ice cream I used to make – except this was better. It was a little sweet (it’s white chocolate after all!) but not cloying or overwhelming. And like a great gelato, it didn’t leave that regretful film sensation in my mouth. It’s a long way from Italy to Argentina, but somehow they’re closer than you think.
Is Cones the best ice cream in NY? The price tag is a bit hefty, but the ingredients are fresh and real, the mouthfeel is satisfying, and with both unusual and classic flavor options, there’s something for everybody, so they get a 9 out of 10.
|272 Bleecker Street (between Morton and Jones Street)