Food & Dining The joy of ice cream
If you travel across America as frequently as I do, you will soon notice that much of this country is not ice cream crazy. There are few places devoted to eating ice cream fancies in the desert heat of Nevada and Arizona (ice cream quickly melts into a mess), while Arctic weather in North Dakota and Montana make iced anything redundant.
So three cheers and a snap to the Nutmeg State, which along with Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Vermont and Maine has an abundance of five-star ice creameries.
Recently, I made a pilgrimage to Bethel to visit two great places to indulge in ice cream. The first is Dr. Mike’s. I think I started coming here in the 1970s when it first opened. It has not changed at all, which is a very good thing. It hasn’t expanded, franchised or added a dozen novelties to the menu. Small but perfect, like a Cartier ring in a red leather box, Dr. Mike’s needs nothing more to make a grand statement.
Although there is nothing ostentatiously “gourmet” about the small store, it is a jewel. There are a modest selection of ultra-premium ice creams made on premises. Every flavor better than any other ice cream you have tasted. This statement smacks of restaurant reviewer hyperbole, but I have judged many ice cream contests over the years and Dr. Mike’s always gets the blue ribbon. If you choose to gild the lily and get a sundae, please know that the fudge is as hot and thick as lava and the whipped cream is the real stuff, not out of a spray can. Dr. Mike’s remains the benchmark against which all ice cream is judged.
People say Disney World is the happiest place on earth. I beg to differ. I think that title might go to Cream & Sugar Cafe, an extraordinarily popular ice cream place on Bethel’s Barnum Square. While some people like a simple artisanal vanilla cone, others crave a circus of sweet stuff. Cream & Sugar has made a name for itself by concocting the biggest, freakiest, most over-the-top ice cream extravaganzas around.
I had the pleasure of watching the pretty blonde lady who owns the place make a new item. She wanted something between the very popular Candy Crush and Belly Buster sundaes. It was like watching an artist work. Her palette of psychedelic colored ice creams, sprinkles, chocolate cookies, doughnuts, cake slices, nerd ropes, whipped cream, bananas, cherries, marshmallows, Oreos, candy fish and anything edible you can think of to put on ice cream is here.
The “yet to be named” sundae begins with six scoops of Gifford’s ice cream, then layered with broad chocolate chip cookies. Wielding a whipped cream can like a craft tool, rosettes are placed lavishly over the whole thing. Next, a sugary lavender liquid is dripped around the rim of the glass goblet. Then comes my favorite add-on: a sprinkle of edible gold powder that makes the whole thing gleam like Mount Everest on a sunny day. By the time the new creation is finished, there is not a square inch left uncovered by candy, cookies, bananas or whipped cream.
“Would you like to try it?,” the owner asks me. The creative ice cream fantasy is roughly the size of my head, possibly my head and a large hat. Normally I would have jumped at the chance, but I had just finished a Cream & Sugar hot fudge sundae that was maybe a third the size, but as rococo as the new big boy and at least 175,000 calories.
As I reluctantly demurred, five school girls walked in the door. They were going to order some ice cream, but to their surprise, the owner asked them if they would like the towering triple sundae for free. Need I tell you these girls acted as if they had won the lottery. Grabbing long silver spoons, they worked there way from the gilded top to the sliced bananas at the base in record time.
Cream & Sugar is very popular on weekends. It is the place to go to celebrate a birthday, anniversary, graduation, team win or any occasion where an enormous quantity of ice cream jacks up the joy. Cream & Sugar is about out-sized food, the kind of goofy showstoppers that are tailor-made for Instagram and Facebook snapshots. To simply walk in here and say, “I would like an ice cream cone,” is to be a bit of a bummer. Yes, you can get a single scoop cone, but you will be missing the point: go big or go home. Think “freak” size, think “everything but the kitchen sink,” think a slew of social media selfies of you and your friends attacking the giant creation with utter abandonment and joy.
Like Disney World, this is the place to be a kid again or to bring a kid for a memorable experience. In my memory, I can pretty much summon up every giant ice cream sundae of my far away youth; Cream & Sugar is cut from the same nostalgic cloth. Have fun!
Jane Stern, a Ridgefield resident, coauthored the popular “Roadfood” guidebook series with Michael Stern. Join her each week as she travels Fairfield County finding a great meal in unexpected places for $20 or less.