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Ice Cream Sandwich Stack-Up

June 22nd, 2010 · No Comments

Heat is rising from New York’s sidewalks. Close toed shoes have been banished to the back of closets. We look for excuses to be outside. Summer is here.

And just as our cheeks start to crave daily sun exposure, our taste buds crave the delights that mark the new season. For as many summers as I can remember one of these delights has been the ice cream sandwich.

On a steamy afternoon last week, I walked Hudson Street from SoHo to Chelsea to collect some of the city’s most touted ice cream sandwiches. That night, four of us tasted them and waxed poetic about how they stacked up against the tried-and-oddly-true Toll House Chocolate Chip Cookie Sandwich that we’ve all enjoyed since childhood.

Jacques Torres’s ice cream sandwich ($5.50) not only looked the best, it also had the best tasting cookie and the best vanilla ice cream. Amazing, none of these wins translated into the best overall sandwich. The chocolate in Torres’s chocolate chip cookies was so rich it overpowered the entire sandwich. Apparently better ingredients do not a better ice cream sandwich make, a realization that is counter intuitive to how we’ve come to think about food.

Torres’s sandwich was also the largest and the most difficult to eat. The ice cream wasn’t evenly distributed and did not reach the cookies’ edges. The cookies broke and the ice cream oozed. And unlike its Hudson Street competitors, Torres does not offer freezer to-go bags. You best live close to home or be ready to scarf this baby down.

Three Tarts Bakery ($4.25) makes a whoopie pie-ice cream sandwich hybrid. It’s square instead of round. Instead of cookies, there are thin pieces of cake. Instead of run-of-the-mill ice cream flavors, artisan combinations are employed. There’s goat cheese, strawberry balsamic ice cream and rosemary chocolate chip ice cream. I opted for the rosemary. You should not. The herby ice cream was too grassy and potent. A fellow taster remarked that it, “tasted like eating a christmas tree.” Tis the wrong season.

The Tollhouse version has many advantages. It’s the cheapest ($3), the easiest to find, and it always delivers on its memory. The cookie-to-ice cream ratio is so perfect it could only have come from a factory. Unfortunately, the same goes for the uniform cookies, with their slightly chalky and not so real taste. Even if it’s not superior, a Tollhouse ice cream sandwich can still satisfy a summer craving. This humble ice cream sandwich held up against its newfangled competitors. We were surprised and happy with its performance.

We were also surprised by Chelsea Market’s unassuming Ronnybrook Milk Bar sandwich ($4.08). At first glance the cookies look too dark, as if burnt. The sandwich itself looks too regular to be special. Our first bites relieved us of our assumptions.  The cookies had great homemade taste and were the ideal ice cream sandwich consistency, soft but not mushy. The sandwich stayed intact from first bite to last. The ice cream was icy and fresh. It wasn’t trying to be more than it should have been and it turned out just right. It was, in essence, a better Tollhouse.

Here’s to a summer of simple pleasures.

Neighborhood: Small Bites