At one time or another, we all scream for ice cream—or so the ancient wisdom goes. Myself, I tend just to exclaim modestly, and not necessarily for ice cream. A cookie will do just fine, usually. Pie is tops.
That said, say the words seasonal, artisanal or vintage* and my ears, like any chowhound’s, perk up; I’ll even give a little yawp, if not quite a yelp. So when word got around that the award-winning Carmela Ice Cream and Sorbet was going to re-open their store on the grubby streets of northeast Pasadena, I positively bellowed. Well, no. But it was exciting news. Carmela has been selling their small-batch confections at farmers’ markets since 2007. The brick and mortar store actually opened last year, but was temporarily shut down on a “licensing technicality.” Now, this Artisan Creamery is fully operational.
As you might expect from a vendor that got its start at farmers’ markets, Carmela specializes in seasonal, garden-inspired flavors: cucumber sorbet, strawberry buttermilk and the like. In two visits, I sampled eight of them:
- Dark Chocolate with Cacao Nibs, topped with Fleur de Sel Toffee Coffee Crunch
- Meyer Lemon Olive Oil, covered with Caramel Sauce
- Brown Sugar Vanilla Bean
- Lavender Honey
- Cardamom, again with the Toffee Coffee Crunch
- Salted Caramel
- Fresh Mint with Cacao Nibs
In the immortal words of Gene Wilder, the snozzberries taste like snozzberries! This is not your Baskin-Robbins mint chocolate chip. The dominant flavor in the mint really is mint, ensconced in a vessel of cool, sweet cream. If you actually like mint, this is a wonderful thing. You may find, however, that you only thought you liked mint, and that what you really like is sugar.
Don’t get me wrong, sugar is delicious, but it’s ubiquitous. Cardamom, on the other hand—when’s the last time you tasted cardamom? I’ll bet you a scoop of Lemon Basil Sorbet it was in a curry.
Not that Carmela is a novelty operation. These flavors aren’t being shoehorned into dresses they’re too big for. The cardamom is delicious, not only as a quantum of flavor, but as an ice cream. Everything I tried had balance, harmony and delicacy, despite the brash flavors.
The one very occasional weak spot is texture. Several of the offerings I tried were, for lack of a better word, dry—to the point where a careless spoon stroke could knock a few globs off the top of a scoop. A minor irony, then: though the “unusual” flavor combinations cohere beautifully, the actual physical substances do not always. Oh, and there’s nowhere to sit. But that’s not the ice cream’s fault.
The fact remains that one would be hard pressed to find ice cream with anywhere near as much depth of flavor in a fifteen-mile radius. If you scream for ice cream, you know now where your relief abides.
Carmela Ice Cream Artisan Creamery, 2495 E. Washington Blvd., Pasadena, 626.797.1405, carmelaicecream.com. “Winter hours” 12 – 8 daily. Cash only temporarily. $-$$.
*As in, vintage ice cream truck.