Yes, yesterday we gave a little time out of the busy national food holidays calendar to pay homage to the creamy, eggy vanilla custard on National Vanilla Custard Day. But it seems that celebration didn’t last long! Right afterwards, today, we get right back to the belle of the summer ball, ice cream, with National Soft Serve Ice Cream Day. Everyone who’s grown up in New York City knows the ubiquitous Mister Softee soft-serve trucks trudging through each neighborhood in the summer, tinkling little bells and playing their incessant catchy tune to pull the kids out of their houses and playgrounds and offer up their allowance for a double-dip cone. But did you know that we hold more of an ice cream pedigree than that? Soft serve ice cream was actually invented in New York! Tom Carvel, owner and operator of the Carvel ice cream business out of Connecticut, was traveling with his ice cream truck in the summer of 1934 when it broke down on the side of the road in Hartsdale, New York. Instead of counting it as a loss, Carvel started selling the quickly melting ice cream to passers-by, and within two days he sold his entire ice cream stock and came up with the ingenious idea to only sell ice cream soft instead of hard-packed frozen. He’s also the inventor of the soft serve ice cream machine, which pumps air into the pre-made ice cream mix, so soft serve always ends up light, fluffy, cool, and most importantly, soft! Man, if it wasn’t for Westchester County, we may have never had soft serve ice cream at all :)
The evolution of soft serve ice cream has brought us from melting cream on the side of the road to a highly specific mechanical process, using a machine specifically created to make soft serve with lots of air pumped through, using any number of ice cream mixes (liquid or powder). You can get soft serve nearly everywhere in the country, but one of the most unique versions of the ice cream can be found right here in the West Village. Victory Garden prides themselves on freshly-made ice cream, churned in a special Turkish process that includes wild orchid root in the mix. If you think that ingredient is strange enough in ice cream, you should take a look at their soft serve–made from goat’s milk! It’s different, yet the same, as regular dairy ice cream: there’s a slight earthiness to goat’s milk that can be attributed both to the different animal and the fact that Victory Garden sources their milk from a free-range goat farm in Connecticut. It also has less lactose content than cow’s milk, which makes it both great for the lactose intolerant, and to mix well with air to make a delectable soft serve. But like cow’s milk ice cream, the goat’s milk soft serve is sweet and creamy, with a mild, mellow taste that allows you to taste all the natural ingredients (and none of the chemicals in mass-produced cow’s milk ice cream). Try the eponymous flavor, which includes a blend of spices you’d more often see in a bouquet garni than in an ice cream ingredient list. You’ll discover the reason why places like the New York Times and the Village Voice are singing its praises, and why Serious Eats labeled it as the best soft-serve ice cream around.
31 Carmine St (between Avenue Of The Americas & Bedford St)
“We can’t say enough about this goat’s milk soft-serve (!) shop, where flavors rotate such that you might encounter a rich salted caramel (with just a faint goaty tang), or you might see a vanilla tinged with orange blossom, or perhaps date and yogurt. Toppings and flavors both lean toward the Mediterranean; we love just about anything crowned with crumbles of sweet, nutty halvah.”–Serious Eats
“Sophia Brittan, Victory’s owner and resident soft-serve sorceress, procures her milk from the does at Connecticut’s Beltane Farm and churns it to optimum creaminess. Wisely, she keeps her flavors simple, which allows her to showcase the goat’s milk’s natural tanginess and slight but not unpleasant barnyard funk, which works particularly well in Victory’s husky, subtly sweet chocolate soft-serve. Paired with a generous spray of pistachios and a few spoonfuls of strawberry-rhubarb sauce, it’s not only intensely pleasurable to eat, but also beautiful to behold.”–The Village Voice
“For her soft-serve goat-milk ice cream, without salep, the flavors include herbs with pistachio, rose, tangy plain and mastic, in addition to dark chocolate, vanilla, coffee and salted caramel. Sundaes with herb, nut and flower toppings are also sold.”–The New York Times
“Brittan explains that her soft-serve is also “lighter on the digestion” than those soft-serves traditionally made from cows milk, and is also fine for the lactose intolerant. Victory Garden also makes flavored soft serves, most possessing a Middle Eastern and Mediterranean inflection. Her staple flavors are salted caramel, chocolate and mastic; a “resin from trees, a popular ingredient in Chios, Greece,” says Brittan, who procures hers from Mastiha Shop in the Lower East Side (profiled in Edible Manhattan last year). Her namesake Victory Garden is an herb and spice blend. Refreshing and sweet, it’s comprised of ten ingredients– rosemary, anise hyssop, sage, mint, oregano, thyme, jasmine, lavender, orange blossoms and cardamom.”–Edible Manhattan
Some reviews from Yelp.com:
“I discovered Victory Garden on the Cooking Channel and it made it to my “Must Try in New York” list. It’s a tiny little soft serve shop with seating for about 4 people. There’s usually only 3-4 flavors available. I tried the Rosemary Chocolate and Sea Salt Caramel swirl with sesame candy topping (I regret not getting the honey comb crunch topping which my friend got because it was DELICIOUS). At first I could not taste the goat milk, but after about 8-10 bites, the goat milk became an overwhelming taste (my friend could not taste it at all). I definitely think this a must-try place for any New York resident or visitor.”–Joo L.
“Since Momofuku Milk Bar there have been plenty of newcomers in the soft serve arena. A particularly noteworthy one is Victory Garden in the West Village. This charming little shop sells soft serve ice cream and yogurt made from goat milk and prepared following the Middle Eastern tradition of incorporating floral essences into the dessert. The goat milk comes from a farm in Connecticut and they offer 4 different flavors each day. And these aren’t just plain strawberry or chocolate. Instead it’s lemon poppy or orange blossom vanilla, lavender, or even rose and mastic. The flavors range from mild to bold and exotic, always fragrant and memorable. And with toppings like stewed rhubarb, wheat germ, and powdered helva this shop is equivalent to an ice cream apothecary. Whether or not you will take to the unique and exotic flavor combinations it’s recommended that you try Victory Garden at least once. After all, it’s not everywhere you can get goat milk ice cream in mastic flavor.”–Ryna D.
While organic free-range Turkish-spun goat’s milk ice cream may be the toast of the town right now, when it comes to my childhood, I can’t think of soft serve without thinking about Carvel. The originators of soft serve ice cream, Carvel’s been a staple for many Americans during the summer months, having many a stand by beaches and other recreation attractions. Although the original Carvel location in Hartsdale no longer exists (ironically, they paved over the property and put up a parking lot. of course.), you can still get Carvel soft serve all over New York City and the country, offering over 500 retail stores in 49 states. And while the quality may be a far cry from homemade artisan ingredients, Carvel still gives me that nostalgic rush when I enter their old-time ice cream shops, with the big white and stainless steel counters and freezers full of Flying Saucers and Fudgie the Whales. My Carvel of choice is all the way down in my area of Brooklyn, on Coney Island Avenue, where the building is still a stand-alone structure built expressly to serve Carvel ice cream so many decades ago. You can still get your soft serve here, hang out in the fading August sunset with your chocolate and vanilla swirl cone, and enjoy a summer evening. Artisan smartisan; this is my best way to enjoy soft serve in New York.
2744 Coney Island Ave (between Dunne Ct & Avenue Y), Gravesend
Some reviews from Yelp.com:
“Awesome Carvel! There’s a little covered picnic area in the parking lot I practically live in during my lunch breaks. The staff here is very polite and don’t seem to mind seeing my face almost every day. All the comforts of your typical Carvel.”–Jonille T.
“I frequent Carvel when in need of a Vanilla Thick Shake Float. I could make one at home or go somewhere closer but Carvel seems to make one of the best renditions ever tasted. In terms of preparation, the Shake is created using an excessive amount of Vanilla Soft Serve, 3 Pumps of Vanilla Syrup, 1/4 Cup of Whole Milk, Blended, and Topped with even more Soft Serve and Whipped Cream. During consumption, patrons will find the shake to be thick, excessively thick! Almost similar to consuming just a soft serve itself. What should be emphasized is the balanced sweetness to that of the velvety texture of the shake. Patrons will find that the sweetness from the Soft Serve and Vanilla Syrup are more evident through the proper texture of the shake. Although at times the shake can be slightly excessive, the flavors are indeed welcoming, and an excellent treat for those hot summer days.”–C. M.
Make sure you check out the updated NYC Food Holidays Map to find this most recent holiday!