Unless you’ve been living under a rock (or a sewer hole), you know that one of the latest fads in the food world is selling food from a truck. New York has always had a history of street food vendors – in fact I give a tour about it with the company Urban Oyster (shameless self-promotion, but hey, it’s my blog!) It’s always been a great opportunity for immigrant chefs trying to find a niche in this country. But in the last few years, we ‘re seeing lots of native born citizens who have become entrepreneurs by learning a food trade and then selling their items on the go. It’s actually a brilliant idea because you save money on rent and it’s a portable business. It’s also great for the customers of a city like New York because if you can’t make it to your favorite restaurant, eventually they’ll come to you.
And it’s the dream of most of those truck owners to one day have the resources to actually open a restaurant or a shop. Of the new faces in the food truck world, Ben Van Leuween is one of the first to make this dream a reality. His yellow, all natural ice cream trucks have been around for a few summers scooping up some delicious, fresh ice cream. And now he’s opened up his first brick and mortar location.
The first time I tried Van Leeuwen Artisan Ice Cream, I was hoping to really dislike it. You see, a while back my friend and I were thinking about opening up an ice cream truck and then along came Van Leuween. So for no good reason, he became our arch nemesis and we only had bad thoughts. But when push came to shove and we tried his ice cream, I had to admit the flavors were intense, the textures were right on, and the ice cream was delicious.
I did discover that a farm upstate makes his ice cream so he loses points for culinary skills, but if he’s turning out a good product, who really cares where it comes from, right? I mean, he’s not competing on Top Chef (I guess it would have to be the new Just Desserts version even if he were).
The second time I tried the ice cream from the truck was rather random. I discovered the truck in Soho all dressed up in Coach advertisements (isn’t that just like Soho?) and offering free ice cream. I tried their Chocolate Cherry and it was the iciest cream I’d ever had. I may as well have been eating a snow cone. Not sure what went wrong there, but since it was free (and I enjoyed my first experience), I forgave it and decided to give the product a second chance. Even if I did throw away that freebie.
So I was eager to taste the ice cream once again and this time there was no mystery as to where he would be since this store stays put on Manhattan Avenue in Greenpoint. It seems to me that’s a strange area to open the shop, but considering how crowded it was, what do I know?
The tiny box of a shop offers the same flavors as on the truck (even the frilly yellow menu is the same), which are limited to just a few well-made options. And all the ingredients are listed as being natural and pure and simple. The coffee comes from the foothills of the Andes mountains, the pistachios comes from Mt. Etna, and the vanilla is a rare breed from Papa New Guinea. It’s all very hoity-toity and a little too serious for my tastes.
But speaking of taste, how was the ice cream? I started with a sample of their newest flavor – Palm Sugar, which was similar to caramel but much sweeter (this is sugar ice cream after all). The Peppermint and Chip had that strong fresh mint flavor which I always appreciate. The Chocolate was very rich and I could tell the quality of the chocolate was very high (he uses Michel Cluizel – don’t believe me, just check the board). But the texture was a little too dense and reminiscent of solid fudge rather than silky ice cream. The texture of the strawberry was a little off too. I found it a bit grainy and instead of discovering big chunks of strawberries, I found ice chunks.
The two flavors I settled on for my cone were Earl Grey and Cinnamon. They just felt right coming from this company – fine ingredients and intense flavors.
The Earl Grey was not as intense as I had hoped. It had a slight floral taste with a subtle hint of lemon. Both good flavor components of this type of tea, but I was missing the full-on tea taste. The cinnamon was more intense but seemed a little powdery. The spice definitely came through however and both these flavors had the creamy, silky texture I expect.
But for all the intensity, as I continued licking, the flavors sort of faded away. And it soon became difficult to distinguish whether it was made with exotic fresh picked tea leaves or from Lipton’s.
That’s a hyperbole, of course. Overall, the ice cream is pretty good and judging from the excited families present that night, it’s a well-received product. But there’s some inconsistency and I find certain flavors to work some times better than others. And while iciness should never be acceptable in ice cream, there are other flavors that have the perfect most pleasing creamy textures. So just like when you’re trying to hunt down your favorite food truck in its usual location – it’s always a crapshoot. But now that Van Leuween has slowed down and made one of his locations permanent, I’d hope for the same with the consistency of his ice cream.
Is Van Leuween Artisan Ice Cream the best in NY? At times, it rates up there with the best but at others, it’s an icy, disappointing mess. But when it’s good, it’s really good so I can’t (in good conscience) give it less than 7 out of 10.
|VAN LEEUWEN ARTISAN ICE CREAM|
|632 Manhattan Avenue (between Nassau Avenue and Bedford Avenue)
|Check twitter for Truck Locations: twitter.com/VLAIC|