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There Can Only Be One Ice Cream Sandwich

August 27, 2012

What does Traver’s Day morning like in downtown Saratoga Springs? From the sound of it I thought it would be madness. I came hours in advance to make sure I had a place to park for the first two stops of the Ice Cream Sandwich Throwdown. I expected traffic, throngs of tourists clogging the streets, general mayhem and chaos.

It was none of those things. There was anticipation in the air as restaurants prepared for a busy evening after people left the track and headed downtown. Travers was on people’s lips at Uncommon Grounds as I had my pre-game coffee. But the streets were relatively clear and quite when I pulled into town at 9:30 a.m.

Oh, and the drive to and from Saratoga Springs was easy. It’s really not that far. I need to remember that and get up there much more often.

That said, not everyone was dissuaded from participating in this joint event conceived of by Idiots Being Idiots in partnership with the FLB. Thirteen brave souls, myself included set off on the adventure of sampling four of the region’s most lauded ice cream sandwiches. Although not everyone made it through. At the end of the day, I had nine completed scoresheets, and one clear winner.

Besides The Idiots who remained anonymous among the group, a few other bloggers were in attendance. I have no idea if they plan to write up the event, but you can certainly check out DocSconz, BCarlton, Jen Is Green, and Jennifer Savino. Other notable attendees included a scion of Saratoga’s venerable London family, a cable news reporter, a former model, and a former Times Union reporter. It was a fun bunch.

The morning started auspiciously at Comfort Kitchen. They had originally hoped to make the strawberry shortcake ice cream sandwich they made for their recent blogger party. But with strawberries going out of season they put their heads together and came up with a riff off the Drumstick. Housemade vanilla ice cream, sandwiched between two housemade pizzelles, dipped in chocolate ganache and topped with salted peanuts.

Bringing in this ice cream sandwich at $3.50 really secured Comfort Kitchen the value category for this contest. This was the lowest priced offering of the day by two bucks, and it was excellent.

Their execution nailed the concept of the classic Drumstick ice cream novelty. Even so far as that one always wishes for more salted nuts on their drumstick. Was it perfect? Not quite. Some had hoped for a crisper cookie. And others thought it could use a bit more ice cream. But most agreed that this sandwich used a bunch of different delicious elements that all worked well together.

From there it was up the stairs and a few paces south on Broadway to Wheatfields. There a table was set and waiting for us complete with linen napkins, real plates, and glasses of water. It was a real class act which to some improved the value of their $5.50 ice cream sandwich.

Wheatfields went with a simpler approach, deciding to make a their own coconut macaroons and fill them with amaretto gelato. One thing everyone agreed upon was that the cookie was chewy. Some loved the texture, others not so much. The flavor combination also worked for some, but was also criticized for not having enough contrast to be interesting.

The biggest problem was that the sandwich didn’t hold together as a sandwich. One reviewer thought it was, “Sloppy in a good way.” Others were just bummed that attempting to bite through the chewy macaroon resulted in the soft and grainy gelato to squeezing out of the edges.

Of the nine completed ballots, eight of them preferred the more kickass sandwich submitted by Comfort Kitchen. Not because it was less expensive, but because overall it was the better of the two.

Then it was off to Albany.

Creo was first up with their ambitious ice cream sandwich made from blood orange and fennel ice cream, between two salted pistachio cookies, and topped with a chocolate Kahlua drizzle. There were some who were concerned that the fennel flavor might be polarizing.

They need not have worried. The ice cream was delicious, but tasted mostly like a creamsicle with little fennel flavor at all. Many loved the salted pistachio cookie. While a few participants faulted it for being a bit tough and cakey in the center, it was also nice and crispy along the edges. Even at $6 it got relatively high marks for value, especially by those who were impressed with the quality of the cookie and the ice cream.

But most judges agreed that the component parts worked better on their own than they did together. And like Wheatfields this ice cream sandwich was difficult to eat, as each bite sent the silky ice cream beyond the edges of the cookies.

How would the ice cream sandwich at The City Beer Hall stack up? After all, this specimen is only assembled in house from ice cream and cookies made off-premise and still sold for the premium price of $6. But the ice cream came from Bowman Orchards and had pieces of their cider donuts crumbled inside. And the cinnamon oatmeal raisin cookies come from All Good Bakers, and are as wholesome as all get-out.

Of all the ice cream sandwiches sampled, this one had the greatest textural contrast. Crisp cookies encased a generous scoop of dense ice cream. It was only the second sandwich of the day (Comfort Kitchen’s was the first) where one could take a bite and not loose ice cream out the edges. The cookie got all the glory, and was considered by the majority to be the best cookie of the day. But the ice cream was really special too.

The most common criticism was that the whole thing was just far too sweet. Surely there is a beer that could pair with the sandwich that would cut the sweetness. However, on its own, this ice cream sandwich is looking for some kind of contrast. DocSconz and I were brainstorming ideas and he came up with cheddar cheese. Even perhaps some hot melted cheddar cheese over the top cookie for some added temperature contrast as well.

Still, eight out of nine participants preferred The City Beer Hall’s entry to that of Creo. Although the point spread was much closer in Albany than it was in Saratoga.

In the end, it comes down to the two more casual restaurants. Comfort Kitchen in Saratoga with its stunningly reasonable $3.50 take on a childhood classic, and The City Beer Hall in Albany with its $6 homage to the best things in Upstate New York.

The points were very close. Almost neck and neck. A three percent difference divides the two. Yet seven out of nine judges agreed that Comfort Kitchen’s ice cream sandwich was the best of the day. As DocSconz wrote, “The Drumstick fits the theme of this tiny restaurant – it is great comfort food!”

Congratulations to Rory, Dan, Jennifer and the whole team at Comfort Kitchen. There is obviously good stuff happening there. So call ahead, ask nicely if they’ll make another batch of these, and see what all the fuss is about.

Thanks again to all the restaurants and chefs for participating in this effort to find The Idiots something to eat. Sure, Albany didn’t win. But it’s The Idiots who look silly for complaining when they had something excellent right under their noses all along. And we did more than respectably, thank you very much.

If you missed out on the fun, don’t worry. We’ll be back soon with the Tour de Cider Donut – Saratoga Edition.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. August 27, 2012 4:06 pm

    had an INCREDIBLE time. Could not believe that I was ice-cream-ed out for the first time in my life.

  2. August 27, 2012 8:06 pm

    I called this one (just wish I could’ve actually participated… the cold is almost gone, finally, at least). Only two of these options even sounded good on paper — City Beer Hall, at six hefty bucks (seriously, there’s no good reason to charge that much for an ice cream sandwich), offering a tasty-sounding but autumn-y creation, and Comfort Kitchen, which not only was the only reasonably-priced entry but is a modern take on a classic combination. Kudos to Rory for taking this one — and I hope he keeps them in stock long enough for me to get one. :)

  3. August 30, 2012 5:37 pm

    Thanks for this post. I will try to make it for the Cider Donut tour!

Trackbacks

  1. The Saratoga-Albany Ice Cream Sandwich Throw Down – A Photo Slide Show | Docsconz

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