Recession Eats: The Five Best Supermarket Ice Creams, and Why We Even Care
I have to begin this article with a brief explanation of my culinary philosophy, or the perceived lack-thereof, in order to address an uncomfortable conversation I had with one of my haughtier readers, and to prevent such a conversation from ever arising a second time.
My approach to writing about what we eat is a simple one: don't become another run-of-the-mill food snob. It's what they expect you to do, and there is nothing more truly satisfying than defying expectations.
Or necessary, in the case of food writing. There are plenty of nasty eaters out there who, with needless rudeness, perform the dubious double-act of coming across both overcooked and half-baked at the same time. These mercenaries trade cruelty for a perceived legitimacy that-- they believe-- comes from cruelty, and provide their readerships with little more than the journalistic equivalent of buying a flashy car.
In short, they compensate, but they don't contemplate. It does neither the reader nor the subject any justice; they may as well show us their dirty bibs.
That's not to say that I'm without my prejudices, or that there aren't foods or restaurants out there that really disgust me; I simply mean to say that there is an impulse, a very basic binary that regulates my first symptoms of head-in-mouth syndrome: did I enjoy it or did I not enjoy it. It starts from that honest spot in our guts we're all born with, then trickles out into critical faculty through a refinery. The writing part comes after I've done the necessary thinking about why I enjoyed it or why I did not enjoy it.
It brings me no pleasure to dislike something; it brings me the utmost pleasure to like something. I do not like wasting time and money; I adore curating where others spend theirs. And though my standards may not seem high, they are-- but only because you won't always get to hear my opinion when a restaurant disappoints. I don't care to write a review of how a brand has fallen short, but I do understand that constant accolades untempered with fair criticism will come across as indifference. Therefore, I should and must offer bad reviews to go with the good, but I will never, ever relish that side of this work. Most assuredly, I will certainly never play the part of someone who enjoys it. I leave that to Anton Ego and his real-life contemporaries.
This is all a big and lofty introduction to a piece that could destroy what I have left of my carefully culled, Brooklyn-borne street cred. I say that because the first trappings of this piece already did, for one person.
In a story about the best ice cream in the country, I began with a review of a simple pint of Ben and Jerry's. I wanted to do so because not everyone lives in a place that has a high-calibre ice cream parlor, or can afford to shell out six dollars for a scoop of what goes for three dollars a pint elsewhere, locally.
It raised a reader's eyebrow, and compelled said reader to call into question my legitimacy as a gourmand. Let it be known: I am one, plain-and-simple. I have the waistline to prove it, but this isn't the website to show that off.
This is a space that celebrates the enjoyment of food, from wherever that enjoyment may come, in whatever form that enjoyment may take. Expert chefs will more often than not offer the highest calibre of enjoyment, and understand the greater tradition of that enjoyment better than anyone else. But you can find enjoyment anywhere-- even if you don't live in a major, coastal city-- even if your bank account is held together with Scotch tape. There's a large, full spectrum of enjoyment in food, and as long as you fall somewhere on it, you're landing in an enviable place.
For those of us who are scattered across the fifty-nifty, here are the five best supermarket ice creams, popsicles, and other frozen confectionary treats. We hope you will enjoy as much as we do:
1. Wattamelon Roll - Friendly's
Sure, the one to take top honors on our list is seasonal, and only available in the summertime, but shouldn't ice cream be that way, too? Granted, not every part of the US is as temperate (read: awful) as the Mid-Atlantic, so for those of you who can justify eating ice cream year round, you'll have to wait until the hottest months for our favorite of the mass-produced stuff: the Wattamelon Roll from Friendly's.
This is about the most charming thing that comes in a box, and a childhood favorite of just about everyone who grew up with the promise of it once school got out. It's shaped like a watermelon slice, with lemon sherbet for the rind and watermelon sherbet for the pink insides. It even has little chunks of chocolate chips that pretend as watermelon seeds. It's a simple, playful move-- and it's a fairly genius one, too. Proto-deconstructionism in food at its most simple, if not its finest.
2. Dulce de Leche - Haagen-Dazs
A pint may not be a pint at Haagen-Dazs anymore, but thankfully, delicious is still delicious. Their Dulce de Leche hasn't changed a bit, and we hope it never does. It's creamy and complex, its texture changing ever so subtly as ribbon gives way to chunk of milky candy, and its sweetness-- too much for some, just right for others-- is perfectly complimented if you sprinkle just a little salt on top. If you really want to do something fun with it, roll a scoop of it in crushed graham crackers. It won't help with the sweetness, but it will get you a new fan or two.
3. Stephen Colbert's Americone Dream - Ben & Jerry's
I've already gone into the wonders of this flavor in the aforementioned, once-maligned twice-shy ice cream article, but I have to sing its praises again. For a (proper!) pint of store-bought ice cream, you're getting a lot of different textures and flavors. The actual ice cream part of this is, as is the case with all of Ben and Jerry's ice cream, just serviceable. Their brand boils down to what they mix into it, and how much they mix into it. Sometimes, they put too much, as is the case with fan-favorite and thigh-exploder Phish Food. Sometimes, they put too little, like they do with the overrated, under-flavored Chunky Monkey.
Stephen Colbert's Americone Dream sees them using the face of my favorite funnyman to market a piece of ice cream emblematic of what their brand does exactly right. It's filled with pieces of fudge-covered waffle cone that sing against a high compliment of salty caramel. It's about as poetic as it gets in this era of mass production, and it's already proven itself countless times as the perfect companion to a lonely night of self.
4. Green Tea Ice Cream - Mr. Green Tea
Now let's round out these American heroes with some foreign favorites. Chinese ice cream is just starting to sweep the nation, and of all the brands I've tried, Mr. Green Tea is the best. It's not available everywhere just yet, but get it if you can. If you can't, there are so many other brands that do a variation on this that you won't feel left out. Green tea makes everything taste better, but it does stuff to ice cream that all but utterly redefines the experience. It's a bitter flavor that cuts through the sweetness of the cream, giving you a bowl of sultry low notes that play well against your expectation of the usual highs. Red Bean Ice Cream is similarly delicious, but often too much to ask from your average eater. If you see it, try it. If you don't like it, just stick to the familiar stuff.
5. Gluten-Free, Dairy-Free Cookie Dough - SO Delicious
We're ending with a brand of ice cream that's as twee as it is remarkably available. SO Delicious churns out ice cream that's dairy-free, so even if it's not completely guilt-free (there's still sugar), it won't give you an awful stomach ache if you eat too much of it. Add to it the fact that you're not contending with an acrid, soy-induced aftertaste because SO Delicious churns its blend from coconut milk, not soy milk. The end result of all their flavors is something that tastes both out of this world and, unlike its fellow dairy-free ice creams, of this earth.
Their Cookie Dough ice cream hits it out of the ballpark for everyone, gluten-intolerant or otherwise. It's gluten-free, and playfully, almost intentionally so. The flavorful chunks of gluten-free cookie dough play well against the sweetness of the cream, each bite bursting with a grittiness that, anywhere else, would be strange and unpleasant. Here, it compliments the smoothness of the coconut milk's texture perfectly.
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