Okay so Morganstern's was on my MUST list of ice cream this year. It seemed that every time I spoke of something ice cream, or searched the internet for something ice cream, or opened up a new issue of Time Out New York, all I kept hearing about was Morganstern's . Oh, and Oddfellows. But hopefully more on that later. What on earth was the big deal??
Well, as the New York Times put it last year:
"At a time when many ice cream makers in New York are eagerly exploring newfangled riffs on old-fashioned toppings or building a rigorous crop-to-cone supply chain, Morgenstern’s Finest Ice Cream is offering something slightly different: a scoop of the experimental spirit — equal parts innovation and pursuit of technical perfection — that is already de rigueur in other parts of the culinary world."
From Artisinal we now adventure into Innovative.
Call it the Cronut effect. Chefs are not just being given freedom to experiment, but are being rewarded - with crowds, press, new restaurants - for their thinking-outside-the-box efforts. Morganstern is not the only one to be doing this, but his story of coming-into-his-own is also intriguing.
It started when Mr. Morgenstern was working as a pastry chef 11 years ago. A European ice cream machine that had been collecting dust at Nice Matin (the Provençal bistro on West 79th Street where Mr. Morgenstern was working), so the restaurant’s executive chef, Andy D’Amico, encouraged him to use it. Since then he gained quite a pedigree with stints at Gramercy Tavern and at Gilt, later moving on to General Greene and Goat Town, until launching his solo endeavor. But he separates himself from the pack in several ways. First, he is a "perfectionist who never stops tinkering" [New York Times]; secondly, he is specifically a flavor perfectionist, not wanting to use a base too high in butterfact, too high in sugar, too low in salt, or even a few degrees too cold, because those conditions mask flavor. Third, his recipes do not use egg, creating a purity of texture.
That perfectionist, flavor-purist nature reveals itself in something I found truly fascinating: not just chocolate and vanilla, but different kinds of chocolate and vanilla. After all, have you ever tried to buy vanilla extract? A gourmet chocolate bar? If we have such variety in flavor of the original ingredients , WHY DO WE have just ONE type of Vanilla or Chocolate ice cream?!? Why not have a Szechuan Peppercorn Chocolate, or an Angel Food Vanilla?
I love this. I LOVE this. I mean, talk about a gold mine. I tried the Cardamom Lemon Jam just for kicks (real Cardamom, real lemon rind, very unique, very intense) but I also went with what was recommended to me: The Salted Caramel Pretzel. I know, I know, it's almost cliché. Which is why I got it. Cause if it's good - and I mean REAL GOOD - I've had enough salted caramel ice creams at this point to know the difference. And this was PHENOMENAL. Perfectly balanced, wonderfully addictive with crunchy little pretzel pieces that honestly felt like bonuses the ice cream was THAT GOOD. Sweet, salty, creamy, with those three things sometimes hitting you at once and sometimes in different waves. It sent the pleasure center in my brain into overdrive.
I was there on a chilly, overcast weekday around noon; I'm seeing on Yelp that the line can be all sorts of Big-Gay-Ice-Cream-insanity during peak hours (Morganstern estimates 1,000 customers a day!) but go. GO! I want to try every single flavor they have. And this summer, I just might. See you there!