Thursday, September 21, 2006


A few weeks ago, I was up in Alpharetta enroute to a shiva minyan. I had allowed plenty of time for the (usually horrendous) traffic, so I ended up a few blocks from my destination with time to kill. That’s when I noticed that there was a Carvel ice cream store conveniently located nearby.

Those of us who grew up in the Northeast are familiar with Carvel, the ne plus ultra soft-serve ice cream. The company was founded by one Tom Carvel (né Thomas A. Carvelas), a Greek-American who sold ice cream from a truck in Hartsdale, New York back in 1929. One day, the truck broke down and he simply set up shop in the parking lot where he had been stranded. Sales were better when he stayed in one spot, so he put down his first roots right there.

Carvel specialized in soft-serve ice cream. Back in my Snot-Nose Days, Carvel stands offered a choice of vanilla, chocolate, and a Flavor of the Week – all soft-serve. Going out to “get a Carvel” was a real treat. Screw Dairy Queen or Mister Softee (another New York-area fave) – Carvel ruled. Eventually, Carvel began copying the Baskin-Robbins model, offering a large assortment of hard-pack flavors - but to us old-school Carvel fans, it’s the soft-serve that made Carvel special...and still does.

Carvel offered several novelties at his stores, including the “Flying Saucer,” a round ice-cream sandwich – but it was his imaginative approach to ice cream cakes that made him stand out. Tom was a believer in economy, and so it was that he took one or two molds and used them to make a variety of cakes simply by changing their decoration and orientation. Cake designs such as “Fudgie the Whale” (pictured at left), the Easter Bunny, “Cookie Puss,” and the seasonal “Cookie O’Puss” (done up in green for St. Patty’s Day) were not only big sellers, they were all produced using the same stupid molds.

Maybe the best thing about Carvel was his insistence on being the Official Spokesman for his own products. Tom had absolutely no acting ability, but he really believed in his product. You could hear it in his gravelly voice as he introduced his latest franchisee to the radio audience:
“This is Tom Carvel, and I’m here with Rajneesh Gupta, who operates a new Carvel ice cream store at 1115 Grand Concourse. What do you think makes Carvel so special, Rajneesh?”

“Oh, Mister Carvel, I am telling you that we are having the thirty-one flavors, and we are having the Fudgie the Whale, and the Cookie Puss, and they are 100 per cent fresh, and certified kosher! Oh, my ghosht!”
You can’t make this shit up, Esteemed Readers.

Along with Tom Carvel, one of the great unsung heroes of Ice Cream Technology has to be the person who invented Vanilla Fudge.

Vanilla Fudge is insidious. You have a tub of nice, bland vanilla ice cream, shot through with dark, fudgy veins. (In the better ice creams, you can actually taste the fudge.) As you scoop the ice cream out of the tub (or – let’s be honest here, shall we? – excavate your way though the tub with your spoon), every time you hit a vein of fudge, you tend to want to dig it all out. Like copper mining, but without the heavy metals. And there’s always another vein lurking beneath the one you just finished off. The result: you consume far more ice cream than you had originally planned to. Marketing genius!

If you really want Ice Cream Imagination, though, you have to look to Ben and Jerry.

I’m generally a fan of simple ice cream flavors. I don’t like lumpy shit like nuts or chunks of fruit in my ice cream: smooth is what works for me. But Ben and Jerry are the past masters at creating Really Good Ice Cream Flavors with Lots of Chunky Crap In ’Em.

I remember the first time I saw Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough ice cream. Here I was in a check-out line at our local Randall’s in Houston, when the lady in front of me set a couple of pints of Ben & Jerry’s on the conveyor belt.

Holy. Fucking. Shit. Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Ice Cream?!!?

Leave it to Ben and Jerry, I remember thinking at the time. These are guys who obviously know how to tap into Fatbody Consciousness. For only the True Fatbodies among us will look at a bowl of raw chocolate chip cookie dough and think, “Hey, why even bother to bake this? I’m gonna eat it with a spoon, right out of the frickin’ bowl!” From there, it’s not too huge an intuitive leap to, “Let’s mix this shit into vanilla ice cream. Bet it’ll taste great!”

Thanks to guys like Ben and Jerry, for me, a trip down the ice cream aisle of the Stoopid-Market is fraught with danger...kind of like a trip through the beer aisle with Rob Smith back in his Bad Old Days. It’s only the knowledge that yielding to temptation means Certain Doom that keeps me from cleaning out 80% of the Ben & Jerry’s and Häagen-Dazs section. These bastards with their Mayan Chocolate (H-D), New York Super Fudge Chunk (B&J), Dublin Mudslide (B&J), and Gawd knows what other flavors tempt me sorely...but I do not give in. Most of the time.

Ahh, but Carvel. You can find their dopey-looking cakes in the Stoopid-Market freezer section, but it’s not the same, no, no. But give me a simple, uncomplicated sugar cone or cup loaded with Carvel’s plain ol’ soft-serve chocolate, and I’m a kid again.

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