I almost missed Lula’s Sweet Apothecary when I first walked by it. It’s in a very strange location for an old timey ice cream parlor. It’s far east in the Village on a grungy street that’s crowded with dirty dive bars, hipster restaurants and alternative boutique shops. And Lula’s is dark and dingy enough to be any one of those things. Except it’s not.
It’s a new retro soda shop that serves ice cream, soft serve, egg creams, sundaes, malts, seltzers, and so on. Except it’s not.
What’s strange and unusual here is not that the menu looks like it was created in the ’50’s, but that all their products are vegan. That means no cream, no milk, no dairy. The egg creams aren’t supposed to have eggs in them to begin with, but these really don’t.
So how is this stuff ice CREAM? Well technically, it’s not. Frozen desserts is more like it. Which is great. I have many friends who are either lactose intolerant or vegan and they certainly deserve to have some summer fun too. So Lula’s Sweet Apothecary should be everything a vegan could want in an ice cream parlor.
Most of the ice creams are made with cashew milk, but a few listed coconut or soy milk as a base. Now I’ve had vegan ice cream via soy or coconut milk and it tends to be icier than the real stuff and a little muted on the flavors. Soy especially adds a rich, sweetness that compromises the original flavor.
Lula’s Sweet Apothecary offers so many traditional toppings and syrups that even if it didn’t taste like the real stuff, you could cover it up enough to fool yourself. But I wasn’t fooling anybody, so I ignored the hot fudge and gluten free brownie pieces and decided to try this stuff naked to really get a sense of the ice cream itself – or ice soy milk or whatever it is.
The hipster counter girl was sort of blank, but totally patient as I asked to sample as many flavors as possible. Each sample was presented on an actual spoon, which added to that old pharmacy ice cream shop feel. It felt like I was being fed my medicine.
And the unfortunate thing is that most of these ice creams tasted more like medicine than dessert. The flavors change daily and are all made in the back. In fact, the mint cookies and cream had to be brought out from the back because it was freshly made. It had some cookie pieces but I couldn’t really taste much mint. I also sampled the mint chip, which the girl warned me was much mint-ier. It was overkill and tasted like toothpaste. I moved on to a sample of the watermelon ice cream. Something seemed off. It had an artificial flavor and if there was real watermelon in there it got overpowered by the strong flavors of the cashew milk. Why didn’t they just make watermelon sorbet? That would have been completely dairy free and much more enjoyable.
I settled on the mocha almond chip. The texture was pretty good (just slightly grainy), but there was a little too much going on. The ice cream was crowded with chocolate pieces and soft almond shreds (they should have toasted them). I found that most of the flavors (including the vanilla s’more) had too many mix-in’s. There’s a balance you have to maintain and I feel like Lula’s may have been covering up for the lack of dairy by putting in lots of sweet texture. It didn’t work for me. The mocha was tasty at first, but the finish brought out that artificial medicine flavor that lingered after I disposed of the cone.
Upon doing some more research online, I found only hugely positive reviews for this spot. I don’t know if it’s unfair of me to judge it against real ice cream or if I just expect more from frozen confections – regardless of what kind of milk they contain. Vegan ice cream is a really difficult product to make rich and creamy. While Lula’s is slightly grainy at times, they get closer than anybody else I’ve seen. But somewhere along the way, their flavors suffer. I feel like there ought to be a great vegan ice cream spot that truly duplicates the real stuff and makes everybody happy. Unfortunately, for me, Lula’s Sweet Apothecary isn’t that place. It felt more like I was visiting my real apothecary than my sweets dealer.
Is Lula’s Sweet Apothecary the best ice cream in NY? The texture is good considering the difficulty in making it that way, but the flavors are compromised and leave a strong medicine aftertaste. Only 6 out of 10 because there ought to be better vegan options out there.
|LULA’S SWEET APOTHECARY|
|516 E. 6th Street (between Avenue A and Avenue B)