This is it, the LeBron vs. Curry of our ice cream competition. I think we’ve all gotten a little wiser and a little fatter. With any luck, we won’t be completely sick of ice cream for the rest of the summer.
We’ve tried to remain impartial, but after two rounds of tasting, we’ve developed biases. We’re advocating for the flavors we’ve begun to love from our individual judging rounds. Even after tasting the more artisanal ice creams, Hartnett is still impressed by Uncle Louie G’s Vanilla — and she’s convinced Morawa. Meanwhile, Silver is arguing for Blue Marble’s Sea Salt Caramel. “It’s got that wow factor,” he tells us, more than once.
Let’s talk about vanilla ice cream for a second. To borrow from Walt Whitman, patron saint of Ample Hills, vanilla contains multitudes. Poor vanilla gets a bad rap. It need not be a synonym for boring. Vanilla can boast flecks of vanilla bean or remain smooth and unblemished. It can be store bought- or fresh-tasting. Icy or creamy. And don’t get me started on soft serve versus hard ice cream. (Both are excellent, but entirely different, desserts.) And yet, some of our judges don’t really like vanilla ice cream. At least, they didn’t. But this bracket may have changed us.
This round also introduced a very important but oft-ignored topic: the difference between mix-ins and ingredients, with nods to beloved Blizzards and McFlurries. Morawa prefers the cookies in her Cookies and Cream to be harder, like a Mcflurry, while I think that these cookies are the perfect consistency, like an Oreo dipped in milk for exactly the right amount of time. I would argue that McFlurries, and by the same token, the entirety of the menu at Cold Stone Creamery, are really just ice cream mixed with toppings. A reconstructed sundae, if you will. And delicious though it may be, a caramel swirl is not the same as caramel sauce.
Uncle Louie G
Most popular flavor: Cookies and Cream
Katy Hershberger: For me, I love Cookies and Cream, and there’s something about the consistency of chewing anything in an ice cream, but especially chewing something that’s soft and sticky. Chewing that soft cookie, it’s like you’ve already dipped it long enough in the milk—
Eric Silver: I love that.
Hershberger: I love that consistency.
Silver: Yeah, I didn’t want it to be crunchy. I was pretty happy.
Hope Morawa: See, I love a fresh Oreo.
Silver: It depends on the thing, but yeah. Because when I think of Cookies and Cream I almost think of it as really swirled up, like a Blizzard.
All: *chorus of yeahs*
Katy Hartnett: This flavor has kind of a McFlurry vibe to it.
Morawa: It’s like a less fresh McFlurry. Because they have to throw the cookie in so you know it’s literally made right there. And it uses soft serve so it’s a little different consistency. With this one I’m just like “stale cookie!”
Hershberger: So you’re comparing it to a real Cold Stone style. And that brings up a real existential question of what Cookies and Cream is. If it’s a flavor and not a topping.
Hartnett: I’m with you on that because a Cold Stone/McFlurry is defined by the process by which it’s made and not necessarily the flavor.
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Popular flavor: Sea Salt Caramel
Morawa: This salted caramel takes you on a journey. It’s getting my highest rating that I’ve given.
Silver: It’s really complex.
Hartnett: It’s really complex but I can imagine – and I don’t know if this is just because I’ve had so much ice cream already, but – on the sip it’s delicious and on the finish it’s really good. But I can imagine having a single scoop of this and that’s it.
Morawa and Silver: Yeah.
Morawa: At work [Catfish in Crown Heights] we were making this joke because we just got this beer and it’s chili-infused. It’s a really weird beer. And we were like yeah, like it tastes great those first couple sips but I can’t get a pint of it.
Silver: It’s got a little burn to it, I like that.
Hartnett: It looks so unassuming, you know. It’s just a single color.
Silver: But there are so many things going on. It doesn’t even need to put shit in it.
Hartnett: I was a little surprised that this was the last one [in the bracket finals]. But then I took a bite and was blown away.
Check back tomorrow for our favorite vegan flavors, and stay tuned on Friday as we reveal the champion and MVPs!
For more ice cream data journalism, follow Katy: @KatyHersh.