Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Big Gay Ice Cream Truck

The Big Gay Ice Cream Truck had been high on my to-do list for quite some time. Besides the intriguing name, I was curious to see why this ice cream truck had such a solid reputation when there are ice cream trucks all over Manhattan. Luckily Groupon had an offer of $5 for $10-worth of ice cream, which my inner-jew couldn’t resist. This sent Big Gay Ice Cream truck to the top of my priority list to make sure I used the Groupon before it expired (I shudder to think of expired coupons). One hot summer’s eve I made the commitment and ventured to Union Square to try it out with one of my extremely good looking friends.

For once I was decisive and knew I must try the Salty Pimp first. Not only did the name make me giggle, but the flavors tempted me the way HGH tempts guidos. The Salty Pimp consists of vanilla soft-serve ice cream, dulce de leche drizzles, and sea salt, all dipped in chocolate. Try as I might to resist eating my cone before we sat down, I am only human. My lack of self-control, combined with the heat, proved to be a fatal mistake. The salty chocolate flavor was wonderful, and unlike any ice cream cone I’d had before. However, after one bite, you really need to put your game-face on and consume the rest of the cone as fast as possible because it started melting faster than Britney Spear’s marriage to Jason Alexander. As each piece of the scrumptious chocolate shell broke and fell onto the table, my heart broke with it. So much joy, and yet so much pain. If you ever try this (and you should) I’d recommend a training-wheels approach. Learn from my mistakes, and put that sucker in a bowl. Regardless of the melting situation, the cone itself was really unique and delicious. My taste buds were almost confused. Salt? On an ice cream cone? But it worked. Big time. While the actual ice cream was pretty standard and had nothing distinguishable about it, the combination of sea salt, chocolate, and dulce de leche far overshadowed this. Once my taste buds adjusted they only wanted more. They begged me to pick the chocolate pieces off of the table, but as I like to pretend that I have a certain level of class (not really) I refrained. I wistfully stared at the fallen soldiers. If picking chocolate shell pieces off of a public table in Union Square is wrong, I don’t want to be right.

After I carried on about how great the Salty Pimp was, my other extremely good looking friend decided she wanted to see what the fuss was about too. I’m not one to turn down excuses for ice cream, so being the selfless humanitarian that I am, I graciously volunteered to go back to the Big Gay Ice Cream Truck. A brilliant opportunity to try a new flavor. This time I opted for the Bea Arthur - vanilla soft-serve, dulce de leche, dipped in Nilla Wafer crumbs. This cone wasn’t quite as good as the Salty Pimp, but I think that’s only because I am more passionate about chocolate. It was a little lighter and a little less intense. One key engineering aspect that the Bea Arthur had going for it was the lack of chocolate shell. The Nilla Wafers allowed the ice cream to maintain its majestic swirl structure, even in extensive heat. So while I love the chocolate taste, if you’re trying to do yourself a favor and not look like a swamp monster covered in chocolate, try out the Bea Arthur.

After these two cones I’m convinced you can’t go wrong here. I’m eagerly awaiting the opening of the Big Gay Ice Cream Shop in the East Village, which will feature more flavors and the Choinkwich, an ice cream sandwich with caramelized bacon (http://www.biggayicecreamtruck.com/blog/). Pure brilliance.


Monday, August 1, 2011

Cupcake Stop: Including a Detailed Comparison to Crumbs

Upon initially hearing of the CupcakeStop truck, I thought to myself, “Good try, but I have Crumbs, cya never.” I have always been beyond satisfied with each experience I’ve had at Crumbs, so what could possibly convince me to break my ties of loyalty to something I value and treasure so much? Something that I hold on the highest pedestal and will drive 20 minutes one way to obtain?

Well, the answer was simple: location. One Friday afternoon I was strolling back to the office when I spotted the truck. Of course I’d heard of it, as I like to consider myself a knowledgeable and well-informed cupcake connoisseur. It was late in the day, I was fading quickly and needed an afternoon pick-me-up. The price was right - $2.50 per cupcake (that’s equivalent to the price of one subway ride. I don’t know about you but I’d rather be stranded and with a cupcake instead of being where I’m supposed to be and without a cupcake). I had an in-depth conversation with the lady who was lucky to have a job which entails sitting in van full of cupcakes about which cupcake a person on their maiden voyage should try. She sold me hard on red velvet, but obviously I’d already consumed a red velvet from Crumbs earlier in the week, so I went for plan B and selected an Oreo Crumb. I exerted all of my willpower and waited until I got back to my office while I mentally prepared for what lay ahead on my cupcake journey.

Fret not my loyal readers - the cupcake was fantastic. The cake achieved that ever-challenging balance between moist and dry (dry = that Baked by Melissa garbage) while being topped with a truly unique frosting, that was more sugary and sweeter than a cream-cheese based frosting. The perfectly textured cake combined with the silky, melt-in-your-mouth frosting blended together to form an unforgettable bite of dessert. The success of the balance of cake and frosting can be attributed to the perfect size of the cupcake. Often, I find myself facing a challenge when eating the larger, gourmet cupcakes. I end up alternating between bites of cake and frosting as the cupcake is too tall for my jaw. The CupcakeStop chef has conquered this first-world problem by baking his cupcakes into an ideal size. They are just large enough to satisfy your sweet tooth and your hunger, without being so large that the consumer overeats. On the other hand, they are big enough that they don’t blueball you into wanting more, like that sneaky betch Baked by Melissa (not that I’d ever want more of such nonsense). The simplicity of this dessert is what really sets these cupcakes apart. Often I find that cakes try to hide behind their poor excuse for dessert through gimmicks like fancy frosting (see Dean and Deluca). CupcakeStop needs no fancy frosting or other disguises because they are selling a quality product.

Since my original Oreo Crumb purchase, I have obviously been back for more. Here is a quick breakdown:

  • Oreo Crumb: Vanilla cake with oreo frosting. Great for someone like me who wants the oreo flavor but isn’t a big fan of chocolate cake.
  • Chocolate Mint: The mint was a little strong, I would have preferred a sweeter mint frosting. However, the contrast of the sweetness of the cake evened this out, so I’d say it’s solid provided your bite ratio to is proper.
  • Chocolate Caramel: Almost the opposite of the Mint Chocolate. The caramel frosting was very sweet, and with a proper bite of cake it was perfect.
  • Cannoli: Amazing. Best, as well as most unique. Vanilla cake with chocolate chips baked in, with a ricotta cheese frosting (like the filling inside a cannoli, duh). Beautiful.
  • Vanilla Chocolate: A classic, done right.

After it really sunk in how much I enjoyed the original cupcake, I began to feel extremely guilty. I felt like I had cheated on my lover Crumbs. Crumbs has been there for me through good times and bad, celebrations and hangovers. It felt like my identity was crumbling (pun intended). And then I realized, Crumbs didn’t open a Soho location, but CupcakeStop is consistently parked on the corner of Varick and Vandam. Who am I to say no to a midday dessert? Sorry I’m not sorry.

So, I’m sure you are all wondering what the differences between these cupcake masterpieces might be. As previously mentioned, the size difference greatly affects the entire cupcake experience. Because CupcakeStop cupcakes are smaller, the ratio of frosting to cake is perfected. With Crumbs, I sometimes face the aforementioned cake/frosting alternation process. On the other hand, I’ve found CupcakeStop cupcakes to be less travel-ready than Crumbs. I recently purchased a Vanilla Chocolate cupcake when I passed the truck as a snack for myself during an evening showing of Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows Part 2. The wear and tear of being tossed around my bag was entirely too much for the poor fellow, and the frosting slid right off, thus throwing off the cake to frosting ratio. A bit disappointing, but a valuable lesson learned. Crumbs cupcakes, however, have this magical protective shell on the frosting that keeps it intact through all kinds of terrain, including 4 hour drives to Virginia. However, this elusive shell layer does nothing to detract from the the taste or flavor of the cupcake. It simply provides for a less messy, neater eating experience. I like to think of this invisible shield as being similar to how Harry is protected from Voldemort through the shield of his mother’s love. We can’t see Lily Potters love, but we sure can see the results in a duel. A third key difference between these cakes is price. Cupcake Stop is $2.50 per cupcake, which I find rather reasonable. Crumbs is $4.50 per cupcake. While the cupcake is also much bigger, I have a harder time digesting paying $4.50 for a snack. In my mind, CupcakeStop is a reasonable snack, while Crumbs is a luxury treat. Perhaps that is the intended message of their respective marketing departments. A final key difference, which coincides with my reasonable snack/luxury treat conclusion, is the amount of variety. Crumbs consistently has a treasure chest of unique and magical flavors that I can barely wrap my dessert-fantasized brain around. CupcakeStop sticks to the classics, most likely due to lack of space on a truck (although according to the website the store has many more options).

What do all of these differences mean to the average connoisseur reading this extremely witty and well-written blog? The cupcake you purchase depends on the situation. If you need an aesthetically pleasing and tasty gourmet gift for someone I’d recommend Crumbs. If you are walking back to your office trying to find any way to salvage the torture that is the rest of your afternoon of doing an 18-tab spreadsheet, I’d recommend CupcakeStop. But either way you can’t go wrong (unless you go to Dean and Deluca).