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Homemade Hard Ice Cream Hotlist

May 29, 2012

Soft serve ice cream seems to get most of the love around these parts. That’s why last summer we went on the Tour de Soft Serve. But for anyone who loves ice cream, I mean really loves ice cream, they know the hard stuff is the only way to fly. And what’s amazing is that there are so many places in the region that go through the trouble to make their own.

So last Saturday a group of 23 adults and two children set off to try and find the best place in the region to go for this summertime treat. But these tours are arduous, and not everyone makes it through. In the end I received 21 completed scoresheets.

Each participant had their choice of six different flavors that were available that day from each of the five ice cream stands. They were Butter Pecan, Chocolate, Coffee, Maple Walnut, Strawberry and Vanilla. And everyone stuck to their flavor as we made our way through The Farmer’s Daughter, The Ice Cream Man, The Snowman, Mac’s Drive In, and Moxie’s.

Evaluating the ice cream back to back to back to back to back was illuminating. Here’s what we learned.

Young Master Fussy wanted to come on tour and eat strawberry ice cream all day. So the two of us were in this group with four other evaluators. This is a brutal flavor. Mostly because bad strawberry can be so bad, and good strawberry is hard to find.

The Ice Cream Man was the clear winner.

CS (stepping up to her first Fussy Little Tour) said it had the “Best balance between sweet and tart” which is probably because it was the only one that was clearly unadulterated with dies or flavoring agents. The pieces of strawberry were fresh and plump without a hint of iciness. Its flavor was more delicate than I might have hoped, but the ice cream’s thick chewy texture made it a real standout.

The clear loser was The Snowman.

Wow. You might need sunglasses to look directly into the “heavy technicolor pink dye” that obviously goes into this homemade product. It has the artificial strawberry flavor of strawberry bubblegum with almost no bits of fruit to be found in the scoop. This was such a disappointment from a place that is so beloved by many.

Moxie’s wasn’t bad. Some people felt like it was a lot more expensive, and in fairness it is, but not by much. Still their strawberry had a brighter pink hue than The Ice Cream Man (but still on the light end of the spectrum) and had a tart, natural strawberry flavor. It just was a bit less flavorful than the category winner.

Only four participants decided to take on this classic flavor. Again, the clear winner was The Ice Cream Man.

KB said it had “The best, richest cocoa flavor and excellent texture, like a super-premium ice cream, very dense and creamy. And it was a great value, too — massive quantities for a small price, and no upcharge for a sugar cone.”

While the Snowman once again failed to impress, The Farmer’s Daughter, Mac’s and Moxie’s all had their proponents. Going to the scoresheets, Moxie’s took second place in this category by a hair, with Mac’s and The Farmer’s Daughter almost neck and neck behind.

On the plus side, The Snowman did get extra points from Kater for using a heavy hand with the sprinkles and providing an impressive quantity of ice cream for a relatively modest price.

Given how central this flavor is to many people’s determination of ice cream quality, I was surprised that only three participants decided to take it on.

Three of three tour participants agreed that The Ice Cream Man won this category too. With Moxie’s once again coming in a close second. WrigsMac bravely took Moxie’s Tour of Vanilla to cap off her Tour de Ice Cream and found that the more “worldly” vanillas were significantly more impressive than the traditional Madagascar. It’s hard to say no to the Tour of Vanilla.

The Snowman did respectably here, falling squarely in the middle of the pack and offering again the best value of any homemade hard ice cream on the tour.

Oh, Albany Jane. I love her. She took the bullet and ordered coffee when nobody else would do it. But she declared a three way tie between The Ice Cream Man, Snowman and Mac’s Drive In, saying that she liked all of them for different reasons.

However, her scores told a different story with Mac’s Drive-In edging out past the other two by a nose. She praised Mac’s coffee flavor with its “nice bitterness”, and gives it her highest marks for texture.

Butter Pecan
Really, this could have been called the Tour de Homemade Butter Pecan. I was floored that eight people chose this as their flavor du jour (and oddly not one person opted for Maple Walnut which I was surprised to see offered at all five establishments in the first place).

What’s interesting is that when you add nuts and take away fruit, the whole balance of power shifts.

I hope you hadn’t counted The Snowman out, because in this most popular flavor on the tour, the Lansingburgh institution knocked it out of the park. While it was not unanimous, the vast majority of tasters found this to be the superior version of the classic. Kate expressed a widely held opinion, “I loved the ratio of small and big nut chunks.” BigTex81 said, “Snowman’s butter pecan had great balance in terms of flavor, size and quantity of pecans, and texture. The spoon was also great.”

The Ice Cream Man came in a close second. JessJamesJake was excited that the, “Pecans were halves! Yay!” It was also noted by CP for being very buttery with a brown sugar flavor that was a little sweet. Maybe a little too sweet for some.

The Farmer’s Daughter, Mac’s and Moxie’s were in virtually a dead heat for third place.

Other Considerations
In an attempt to try and capture the value at each stop, we weighed the ice cream (along with the cups and spoons) using a digital scale.

What we found is that on average a small really isn’t. Most shops give you approximately eight ounces of ice cream at that size, which is about the size of TWO servings. Moxie’s is different, as their kiddie/small is a scant single serving portion. Even adults are well-served by ordering a kids cup, given that at The Ice Cream Man, The Snowman, and Mac’s the child size weighs in at five ounces or more.

The Snowman is a great value, weighing in at less than $.30 an ounce regardless of ordering the kids size or the significantly larger “small”.

Moxie’s is far and away the most expensive of the five. My kids cup weighed in at 3.5 ounces at both The Farmer’s Daughter ($2.14) and Moxie’s ($2.54). Except Moxie’s looks a lot smaller because the one scoop is set adrift in a much larger bowl. And given the tremendous quality difference, paying $.40 more cents for the ice cream at Moxie’s hardly seems like highway robbery. But when you look down at the bowl and consider what you paid for it, Moxie’s feels a lot more expensive than it actually is. Especially if you had the kids cup from The Ice Cream Man earlier in the day which weighed in at 5 ⅜ ounces ($2.00)

The Ice Cream Man is not only great, but it’s also a great deal. If you are nearby, you should certainly go, and you may even want to consider a drive just to try their ice cream. What’s interesting is that while most of what we tried there was great, not every flavor hit it out of the park.

The Snowman has some bad flavors. Seriously bad. Avoid strawberry there like the plague. I’m not kidding. But if their Butter Pecan is this good, there must be other things there that are equally special. I’d opt for things with nuts or other chunks. I would say avoid things with fruit, but I know their Black Raspberry is also quite good. So it’s spotty, but the things they do right are fantastic.

Moxie’s is really cute, and they have some very inventive flavors. Their world tour of vanilla is pretty special, and they clearly make some high quality ice cream. But the intensity of flavor could be kicked up a notch or two, and especially considering it’s out in the boonies, this place is surprisingly expensive.

Thank you to everyone who came out and participated in this venture. Hopefully this will be helpful to the general ice cream eating public. Summer is short. There are only so many chances one has to eat ice cream. Make sure that they count, and eat well.

Next summer: The Tour de Gelato.

15 Comments leave one →
  1. May 29, 2012 10:09 am

    Wow. I’m shocked that so many people picked butter pecan. I would have chosen chocolate. I do love strawberry, but I know it’s not good everywhere, so I probably would have avoided it in this instance. I’m not sure tour de gelato would have many stops around here. Let’s move that one to Rome.

  2. May 29, 2012 10:14 am

    This was so much fun. What is so much better about this tour than the cupcakes is that I still feel like I could go for some ice cream today (vanilla even!) – I have yet to consume a cupcake since that awful day in March and I don’t see one in my future either. I’m definitely going to look for Ice Cream Man ice cream in the stores. It was absolutely scrumptious. Thanks again for a great event.

  3. May 29, 2012 10:31 am

    I’ll have to give the Snowman another try when I’m in a Butter Pecan mood.

  4. May 29, 2012 10:44 am

    Thanks for the great review Daniel! As a production worker who makes the ice cream at the Ice Cream Man it makes me so happy to hear when customers have a great experience.

    • john thivierge permalink
      July 5, 2012 1:45 pm

      I sell Ice Cream Man ice cream at the Stuyvesant plaza Meat House. It’s delicious, come on down!

  5. May 29, 2012 11:08 am

    Damn — I can’t believe nobody picked maple walnut!

    Bonus points to The Ice Cream man for not charging extra for a sugar cone — 3 out of 5 places did, and that’s just lame. It honestly can’t cost that much more for a mass-produced sugar cone than it does for a mass-produced cake cone, that an extra charge is justified.

  6. May 29, 2012 12:13 pm

    Glad to hear multiple places are solid with coffee ice cream, that would have been my flavor pick were I available to tour. And interesting take on Moxie’s (my personal favorite, though I’ve never been out to The Ice Cream Man). I once had Moxie’s with AJ and I remember she got lavender something or other and she thought the flavor was a bit too delicate, at the time I assumed it was a fluke but now I see that sentiment popping up again. I am always craving the special chile-spiced vanilla or chocolate when I go there, though, and those have plenty of flavor.

  7. May 29, 2012 2:29 pm

    I’m happy to see that other voters also enjoyed Snowman’s Butter Pecan. I was hesitant to rank it as #1 after even *looking* at their strawberry offering. Yikes.

    Thanks again for organizing! Our group of tour newbies really enjoyed the day!

  8. Bonnie Kohn permalink
    May 29, 2012 9:47 pm

    Where is the Ice Cream Man?

  9. May 29, 2012 10:29 pm

    I am so undeniably lovable. Fact.

    The one thing that jumps out on me from this tour is how successful different flavors are at one ice cream locale. Just because one or two flavors rock doesn’t mean everything is awesome. Likewise, one or two weak flavors shouldn’t rule out the rest of the selection.

    I think Moxie’s may just not be my jam. I guess that will save me a few pennies in the long run. I really want to love Moxie’s, though. I just want a blast of flavor in my mouth, too. yepthatswhatshesaid I think I need to try their vanillas, though. Their vanilla tour looked awesome. I’m hoping this is a case of mis-ordering weak flavors on my part.

    FWIW, Snowman was probably my bottom favorite of the three top places because the flavor was the lightest of the three.

  10. Julie permalink
    June 1, 2012 1:50 pm

    Love the Ice Cream Man! (Located on Rt 40 in Greenwich – next to the fairgrounds.) And i wanted to note that Coffee Planet in Ballston Spa sells Ice Cream Man ice cream by the cone or bowl-full, if you happen to be in that neck of the woods. I HIGHLY recommend the chocolate peanut butter :)

  11. Beverly permalink
    June 8, 2012 1:37 pm

    So I feel compelled to speak out on behalf of the Snowman; definitely agreed that some flavors are to be avoided, but really – they have SO much to love! Mocha Midnight Espresso, Black Raspberry, Mint Chip, Kahlua Fudge Almond, Coffee Mocha Chip, Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough of course… and yes, the amazing Butter Pecan.
    I almost never get fruit ice creams (gave up on strawberry decades ago), unless we’re talking gelato… not to mention that my fellow Trojans and I go fairly regularly, so the value aspect is definitely important… so all in all, the Snowman is the place for me. :-]


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