Secret Vegan Ice Cream in the East Village

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.

You wouldn't know it by looking at it, but ice cream lies within.
You wouldn’t know it by looking at it, but ice cream lies within.

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.

I tried, I really did, to get a shot without the glare.
I tried, I really did, to get a shot without the glare.

 

A dainty scoop.
A dainty scoop.

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).

Blythe Ann’s
516 E. 6th Street
New York, NY 10009

Ice Cream Radar Shows Ice Cream Near You

It came to my attention a few days ago that the WNYC Data News Team has beaten me to the punch when it comes to New York City maps populated with ice cream shop locations. It’s called Ice Cream Radar.

Type in your intersection or address, and it’ll spit out a map marked with nearby ice cream shops. For ice cream purists who wish only to patronize local establishments (aka picky yuppies such as myself), you can filter out chains and fro-yo. The data comes from the foursquare and Yelp APIs and New York City restaurant inspection records. That’s cool and all, but the data contains some questionable results.

For example, putting in my intersection (please don’t stalk me) shows three nearby shops. Neither the red cone nor the purple cone are actually ice cream shops. The green cone is a Baskin-Robbins, so that’s accurate. But for some reason, the Baskin-Robbins on 145th Street and Broadway didn’t show up, possibly because it’s also a Dunkin’ Donuts.

At least four results in my vicinity? It's a sad lie. Harlem is actually an ice cream desert.
Here is a map of lies. Harlem is actually an ice cream desert.

 

Regardless of the false positives, props to WNYC for making this delightful widget. It has shown me that 1) there is demand for tools that display data about ice cream and 2) the data needs to be refined and curated. Therefore, I declare that this Ice Cream Radar has not rendered my ice cream directory project redundant. There is great value and utility in content curation and deep storytelling. And that’s what I plan to offer with my version of an ice cream radar.

New Opening: 10Below Serves Made-to-Order Ice Cream in Chinatown

It’s not too often that a net-new ice cream shop opens in New York City. There are, however, plenty of  openings for new locations of existing stores/stands/brands; see Van Leeuwen, Davey’s, MilkMaid, and Ice & Vice in 2015 alone.  So it’s exciting news that a new shop, 10Below, opened July 18 in Chinatown on Mott Street—right around the corner from Chinatown Ice Cream Factory.

According to the New York Times and the 10Below website,  they’re serving “Thai-inspired ice cream rolls” that are made-to-order. The ice cream base is poured onto a -10°F metal plate, mix-ins are added, and in a minute or two it’s frozen enough to be scraped into a roll shape.

I’ve never heard of this style of ice cream-making before, but I’m intrigued. It sounds a bit like a mash-up of San Francisco’s Smitten Ice Cream, where liquid nitrogen freezes the base in a sci-fi-looking blender, and  Cold Stone Creamery/Marble Slab, two mega-chains that slap already-frozen ice cream and mix-ins around on a granite stone before scraping it into a cup or cone. The novelty of freshly frozen ice cream, plus the roll shape, are sure to help 10Below stand out in an area of Manhattan that is already dense with A-list scoop shops.

Personally, I’m not a huge fan of made-to-order ice cream because it has a very soft texture, similar to that of soft-serve. But it’s guaranteed to be fresh and smooth, and good flavors/mix-ins will go a long way in making up for the texture (I know for many, the texture of soft-serve is a good thing). Judging by the line on their opening day, they’re going to do alright:

New Yorkers love ice cream, and they love standing in line for things. Standing in line for ice cream? Heaven. (via 10Below)
New Yorkers love ice cream, and they love standing in line for things. Standing in line for ice cream? Heaven. (via 10Below)

Uber’s Most Effective Charm Offensive, #UberIceCream, Is Happening Friday 7/24

Another summer, another #UberIceCream promotion. Today, July 24, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., Uber users all over the world will be able to order local ice cream through the UberEATS feature of the app. It’s a great day to be a New Yorker, because “local” ice cream for us means Ample Hills!

Push Button Tap Phone, Receive Bacon Ice Cream. (Next year I promise to try harder in Photoshop.)

 

Ample Hills is offering the “Black & Walt,” an ice cream sandwich comprised of a “baked cookie, vanilla malted ice cream slicked with malted fudge, and … rice krispies crunch” for $10. Melt Bakery is offering “The Classic” ice cream sandwich (chocolate chip walnut cookies with vanilla ice cream) at 2 for $10. Sprinkles is offering a cupcake sandwich Neapolitan—strawberry ice cream between a vanilla cupcake top and a chocolate cupcake top, 2 for $13.

Ample Hills' Black & Walt, Sprinkles' Cupcake Sandwich Neapolitan, Melt Bakery's The Classic. (via Uber)
Ample Hills’ Black & Walt, Sprinkles’ Cupcake Sandwich Neapolitan, Melt Bakery’s The Classic. (via Uber)

 

Delivery for any of the options is free. If you’re paying with a Capital One card, the ice cream is free too (up to $25 worth)! The promo code is: SWEETDEAL.

Sadly, the New York delivery area is only between 59th Street and 14th Street, so no Black & Walts will be showing up in front of my Harlem doorstep. I can only hope to live vicariously through those of you who are working in Midtown or Chelsea.

P.S. Hold on to your butts: the #UberIceCream promotion has created a shortage of Black & Walts.

The Difference Between Ice Cream and Gelato and Why Ice Cream Is Superior

Here’s a familiar situation in my life: I’ve just finished dinner with a group of friends, and we’re trying to figure out what follows. Someone will volunteer ice cream, because my *real* friends know that I love ice cream. I don’t even have to say “I want ice cream” after meals anymore. They already know. But maybe there’s a new friend who doesn’t know me as well, or there’s a friend of a friend, who will pipe up with a suggestion: Il Laboratorio del GelatoGrom?

Someone will shake their head knowingly. “Amy doesn’t like gelato.”

Continue reading The Difference Between Ice Cream and Gelato and Why Ice Cream Is Superior

Go Fourth

New York City is the most crowded city in the U.S., so it’s a magical time when it empties out, as it does during major holidays.

So, a few friends and I spent July 4 meandering around Flatiron and Chelsea, marveling at the empty streets. I did a lot of window shopping, and a little actual purchasing at Flying Tiger.

Flying Tiger is a Danish home goods/knickknack store, reminiscent of a certain other Scandinavian home goods store known for selling design-savvy products at low prices. It also reminded me of Kikkerland, another Scandinavian-esque (it was founded in NYC by a Dutchman) knickknack store. Though smaller than IKEA and more practical than Kikkerland, Flying Tiger offers items in the same style of affordability and charm. Do I need a giant clothespin, or an egg timer shaped like ice cream? Absolutely not, but the fun of the store is being delighted as you pass those items up for the more practical ones. Flying Tiger is an excellent place to find a quirky gift or party knickknacks.

We followed Flying Tiger with Fishs Eddy, a kitchen/home goods store featuring vintage Americana designs. I was unsurprised to spot several items that I’d seen in my apartment—of course E.S. owns items from this charming-quirky store! I guess you could say Fishs Eddy is affordable; however, I don’t think I’ll be able to spend $11.95 on a single plate until I’m out of my twenties. I’m still using pieces from the Corelle set I bought when I was in college. Stores like Fishs Eddy are for people who are settled down with tastefully decorated homes, people who own things like tablerunners and coasters. Adults.

Even though I’m still stuck in college-kid mode when it comes to home furnishings and decor, I liked Fishs Eddy and will probably return to get some bar supplies. Or, to pull the trigger on some ice cream cone-shaped cups.

a blog about ice cream and life