Last month I overheard an extremely true statement that resonated with me and made perfect sense. It made so much sense, in fact, that I wondered why the thought hadn't occurred to me previously.
"You don't have to be hungry to eat ice cream," said a teenage boy to his equally pubescent and awkward date as they strolled by me on the street. I had to laugh and agree. Ice cream isn't so much a food option or nutrition source as it is an indulgence, an entertainment for the senses and simple gastro-pleasure.
Basically made from milk, sugar, and eggs, ice cream shares these foundation ingredients with many sweet and hedonistic treats; cake, brownies, pie, German pancakes, soufflés and the like. Just about anything you can spread frosting on, pour syrup over, dunk in milk, douse in whip cream or top with ice cream, I want a bite of it.
What do I love about ice cream? I love its changeable nature. When very hard, I can literally chew it. When soft, it glides around my mouth like liquid silk. Full of salted nuts, pretzel pieces and waffle cone, it becomes a substantial eating experience. In a blender, it's something difficult not to gulp.
Those in the know share their favorites; suggest desserts to try, and where to satisfy that need to indulge locally.
Andy Yee, co-owner of North China Garden, suggests a destination not commonly associated with dessert: Asado. A crepe pinched and tied into a purse is stuffed with large tapioca and Nutella before taking a quick swim in the fryer to crisp it up. Two "purses" flank a large spoonful of Olympic Mountain pistachio ice cream with paper thin, dehydrated, green apple chip balanced on top. The plate, strewn with chopped pistachio, is pleasing to the eye in its arrangement; the contents more than please the taste buds with both savory and sweet qualities while the mouth feel is a delightful combination of crunchy, silky melting ice cream, creamy Nutella and dulce de leche.
Doused lightly with blueberry sauce Olympic Mountain honey ice cream makes another appearance with vanilla pound cake, made in-house by pastry chef Candice Ehret at downtown Tacoma's crown jewel of dining, Pacific Grill. Rocky road, salted caramel are some personal favorites of Gordon Naccarato, the award-winning restaurant owner.
Another Naccarato has a surprise up his sleeve in the sweets department. Steven Naccarato, co-owner of Shake Shake Shake (the soon-to-open nostalgic-Americana-diner meets new-twist-on-Burgerville), will have a milkshake that incorporates Tacoma's famous candy company, Almond Roca, called the "Tiger Shake." Vanilla bean ice cream and Almond Roca will be set off by salted caramel and chocolate syrup stripes. I predict a win in the Stadium District this fall.
Some, like self-proclaimed local food lover Dawn Elizabeth Markley, swoon over specific parts of desserts. Her weakness is the buttercream frosting made at Burning Cupcakes. Others, like Maxwell's Restaurant and Lounge bartender Jackie Casella, enjoy the combination of herbs and fruit. Her newest sweets obsession is with blackberry basil sorbet. Martin Osborn, owner of Puget Sound Pizza, soothes his sweet-tooth craving with the magic bars at Corina Bakery, a downtown full-service bakery that has a large, loyal fan club for good reason.
I can be found at Gibson's Frozen Yogurt all too often and at the Sixth Avenue Farmer's Market most Tuesdays. Make a point to stop at the Farmer's Market and meet Layla Isaac, the brains behind Ice Cream Social (www.icecreamsocialtacoma.com). Isaac makes handcrafted ice cream without stabilizers, artificial ingredients, or preservatives. I don't know about you, but I don't need preservatives in my ice cream; it won't be around that long. Small batches are how Isaac does it, so the variety of offerings changes regularly. Isaac also listens to her customers. Salted caramel was in high-demand in recent weeks, so Isaac made 16 gallons of it and sold all of them along with 32 other gallons of her delicious frozen treats at last Sunday's Moveable Feast at Cheney Stadium. Custom orders can also be made, as I experienced firsthand when she created a roasted pear ice cream for a private dinner party.
Recently she's begun serving freshly made waffle cones.
"People love the smell, it really draws them in," Isaac says, and she is right. I watch a line of people form as she expertly rolls a still hot, and very fragrant waffle into the shape of a cone - the new home for a scoop of vegan coconut ice cream spiked with tiny chocolate chips.