A couple of days ago I had an afternoon meeting with a new friend, who doesn’t eat dairy but knows I’m obsessed with ice cream. Our worlds were reconciled when she suggested we meet at a vegan ice cream shop in the East Village. “Lula’s Sweet Apothecary/Blythe Ann’s” was what her email said.
I got there early because googling the name of the place returned some shady results, and I wanted to make sure I could find it. After squinting around East 6th Street, I espied a dark storefront with a restaurant inspection grade in the window.
No signage on the outside, and no signage on the inside! Peering through the window won’t help you unless you can read the menu board on the back wall. Plus it opens late—I walked up at 2:55 p.m. and the steel security gate was pulled down. You really have to know what you’re looking for to find this place. Good thing they built up a loyal customer base before going nameless. It probably helps that vegan ice cream is a very niche product, something that people actively search out. But why so incognito?
Because in 2012, the shop got caught in a nasty custody battle when its owners, Derek Hackett and Blythe Boyd, went through a nasty divorce. Word on the street is that an agreement has since been reached where Boyd could keep the shop, but not the name. Re-branding is arduous work, and so is rebuilding a post-divorce life (that’s its own kind of re-branding). I’m guessing that Boyd hasn’t had a chance to get the store’s second life in order yet. In the meantime, the shop is unofficially called Blythe Ann’s.
Fortunately, it seems that the drama has not affected the ice cream. I had never visited the shop when it was Lula’s, but my friend had been a fan for years. I’m pretty skeptical of any kind of ice cream made from “alternative” ingredients—dairy and eggs are largely responsible for the rich flavor and texture of the best ice creams—but a well-rounded aficionado needs to stay on top of the increasing number of vegan options.
The ice cream at Blythe Ann’s is made from cashew milk, which tastes strongly of cashews and has a smooth, rich texture despite relatively low levels of fat. Like other nut milks, this is achieved in part by the addition of stabilizers such as guar gum and carrageenan (some dairy-based ice creams also contain these ingredients). The available flavors were conventional, with root beer being the most unusual one. I opted for a scoop of almond butter fudge, which was served in a little glass cup since I got it to stay.
It definitely tasted like almond butter, but it mostly tasted like cashews. This is not a bad thing because I like cashews, but it does seem like a limitation to making ice cream out of cashew milk. It was lightly sweet, which let the cashew and almond flavors stand out. The texture was perfectly smooth and fluffy for a vegan ice cream— creamy, but light on the tongue and gone within a second or two.
Overall, a positive introduction to dairy-less, egg-less ice cream. I can’t say that it rivals dairy-based ice cream. But I think it’s not meant to. It can stand alone for what it is, as a similar but different product. At the very least, I can file away Blythe Ann’s as the top option for when I’m with vegan friends (or if I suddenly develop a lactose sensitivity).
516 E. 6th Street
New York, NY 10009