For a feature in our July/August print issue, we delved into two new ice cream parlors for a taste of cold summer treats.
Lower East Side ice cream lovers have it pretty good around here, with Houston Street’s il laboratorio del gelato, Orchard Street’s Melt Bakery and Essex Street Market’s Luca and Bosco–not to mention the weekly infusion of options at the Hester Street Fair.
This summer, two new parlors have introduced their wares to the mix, just in time for the sidewalk-melting heat of July and August.
Restaurateur Nick Morgenstern opened Morgenstern’s Finest Ice Cream at 2 Rivington St., while Mohan and Holiday Kumar, long-time Lower East Side residents, partnered up with Chef Sam Mason to open the first Manhattan outpost of Brooklyn’s OddFellows Ice Cream Co. at 75 E. Fourth St.
“This is all I ever wanted to do–make ice cream,” Morgenstern said recently from behind his shiny white bar. He owns Stanton Street’s El Rey Coffee Bar and Luncheonette and the East Village’s Goat Town restaurant, but his passion for ice cream has been brewing since long before either of those two establishments opened. He began experimenting at his Fort Greene restaurant, General Greene, after a career in other people’s kitchens, including Gramercy Tavern. He spent more than a year building out his cheerful, sleek, black-and-white space near the corner of Bowery. Now that it’s complete, he spends most of his time in his basement kitchen under the parlor, concocting flavors.
Vanilla and chocolate? There’s five of each, with variations like bourbon vanilla and lemon chocolate. Other flavors in rotation include black ass licorice and durian banana, along with sorbets like apricot and sweet potato. Huge sundaes, designed to be shared, come with a variety of topping options, including made-to-order whipped cream, luxardo cherries, pickled pineapple and dried acai. Prices start at $4 for one scoop; cash only. There’s also Counter Culture brand coffee, house-made sodas, floats and shakes.
After news of Morgenstern’s soft-opening appeared in the city’s foodie press at the end of May, crowds flooded his space. He did about 1,000 covers a day over Memorial Day weekend, he said. Since then, the lines have calmed down a little but the accolades have accelerated, with food critics applying terms like “the thinking man’s scoop shop” and “the best ice cream in New York.”
Just a few blocks north, at OddFellows Ice Cream Co., the tiny shop may be brand-new, but the many kudos for its contents are already framed on the wall. That’s because OddFellows has just celebrated its one-year anniversary after launching in Williamsburg last summer. The Kumars, who live on Attorney Street, launched the business with Mason, a friend they’d met while living on Clinton Street, where Mason was the pastry chef at wd~50. OddFellows was born out of pregnancy craving, said Mohan Kumar, who left a career in real estate finance for the new venture.
“When my wife was pregnant, she wanted fried chicken, and she wanted savory ice cream, which was actually hard to find,” he said. “I was telling Sam about it, and a few days later, he showed up at our apartment with a pint of pretzel ice cream. I didn’t even get to taste it–it was gone.”
Like Morgenstern, Mason “had wanted to open an ice cream shop his whole life,” Kumar said, and the partnership was born.
OddFellows’ main production facility is in Brooklyn, where Mason pasteurizes his own product base using milk and cream from Battenkill Valley Creamery upstate (which is also Morgenstern’s supplier). The list of flavors is 121 varieties long, with eight on tap at any one time in the Manhattan shop. Savory options are OddFellows’ specialty, and they include offerings like chorizo caramel swirl. The menu, which starts at $4 for one scoop, is full of great combinations–try the miso cherry and the blueberry-honey buttermilk. OddFellows makes its waffle cones from scratch daily, and also offers hand-packed pints ($10).
“The best compliment a customer gives me is ‘your ice cream just tastes fresh,’” Kumar said. “Everything we do is entirely made from scratch, and that’s the long way of doing it, the labor-intensive way.”
Both Morgenstern’s and OddFellows are part of a booming artisan ice cream market that’s beginning to mirror other foods trending toward small-batch production–craft beer, for example.
“All of the sudden, there’s a lot of great ice cream out there,” Kumar said. “I don’t want ice cream to turn into the next cupcake craze, but if people do it right, it can be really good.”
(Have a taste: OddFellows is giving away free kid-sized scoops of red, white and blue sprinkles ice cream in honor of Independence Day. The special runs from 6 to 9 p.m. July 3 and July 4, at the East Village location only.)