When I wrote about mail-ordering pints of Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams last March I didn't expect a trip to Columbus, Ohio, was in my near (or even distant) future. But last week, after ten-plus years living in Seattle, I spent six days driving cross-country with my cat Louis to move to Brooklyn, and I made a point to take a detour that would call for a pit stop in Columbus. I'll write more about a few of the road food highlights, but I wanted to kick things off near the end of the trip.
After one spoonful Jeni's won me over for life and, based on the spirited discussion in the comments section, I'm not the only ice cream lover who's wild for Jeni's. I thought it would be worth the trip to sample these seasonally inspired, locally sourced flavors as close to the source as possible.
As it happened, the hotel where I was staying was within walking distance of two Jeni's. I made it over to their original location at the historic North Market, an indoor marketplace of 35 culinary minded vendors, including bakeries, butchers, fishmongers, and delis. Unfortunately, I rolled into town on a Monday when many of the vendors aren't open, but I made it to Jeni's 15 minutes before they were set to close up shop for the day.
Now I knew I was going to be hitting another Jeni's in just an hour or two, but that didn't stop me from tearing through samples. And may I say, the servers at all the Jeni's I encountered were some of the friendliest and most hospitable people around. I kept mumbling apologies for requesting to try so many flavors but one of the guys at North Market assured me, motioning toward a tub stuffed with tiny spoons, that he'd keep scooping out samples until they ran out of spoons. And sample I did: Strawberry Buttermilk, Savannah Buttermint,The Buckeye State, Goat Cheese with Roasted Cherries.
He mentioned that, thanks to frequent rotation on Food Network's The Best Thing I Ever Ate, Queen City Cayenne was their most popular sample request behind Salty Caramel. And the combination of dense chocolate made extra-rich with condensed milk and the tongue-tingling pairing of cayenne and cinnamon definitely lived up to the buzz. Before committing to my order I asked what his favorite flavor was and without missing a beat he suggested one of their newest seasonal picks, a refreshingly tart Meyer Lemon Blueberry Yogurt.
Still struggling to commit, I went with a "study" of four half-scoops, settling on Queen City Cayenne, the Buckeye State (salty peanut butter with dark chocolate), Goat Cheese with Roasted Red Cherries, and Meyer Lemon Blueberry Yogurt. I alternated spoonfuls from rich to tart until eventually all flavor borders were blurred and the ice cream melted together.
After a quick and uneventful dinner at a nearby restaurant it was back to the business of ice cream with a second dessert lap at Jeni's Short North location just a few blocks up on North High Street. I went back to the samples, this time trying Gravel Road (Salty Caramel ice cream laced with coarsely chopped smoked almonds) and an effervescent Cherry Lambic. When I asked the server his favorite flavor, Meyer Lemon Blueberry came up again (I think we have a winner). This time I went with a trio of half-scoops: Strawberry Buttermilk, Savannah Buttermint, and Gravel Road.
And now that I'm in New York I'm pretty thrilled to discover via Jeni's pint finder that I can buy pints in two Brooklyn locations, just blocks from my new digs. (And, while I was in Columbus someone told me that Jeni herself had mentioned that if she ever opened an actual ice cream shop outside of Columbus it would be in Brooklyn.)
I did miss out on their macaroon-inspired ice cream sandwiches (yet another reason for a return trip to Columbus) but I did have them pack up four pints for the road. While my new refrigerator is still pretty empty, there's cold comfort knowing four (make that three) pints of Strawberry Buttermilk breaking in my new freezer. When I was walking back to the hotel lugging a cooler packed with ten pounds of dry ice I passed a doorman at a nearby bar who offered: "That's some world famous ice cream you've got there." Amen to that, my friend. Amen.
Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams
North Market: 59 Spruce Street, Columbus, OH 42315 (map)
Short North: 714 North High Street, Columbus, OH 43215 (map)
About the author: Brad Thomas Parsons is a Brooklyn-based writer who has interviewed many of the food world's biggest names, including David Chang, Anthony Bourdain, Mario Batali, Danny Meyer, Ina Garten, Jamie Oliver, Paula Deen, and Giada De Laurentiis, among others. He is currently at work on his first book, Bitters: A Spirited History of a Classic Cure-All, with Cocktails and Recipes.
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