I don't have much of a sweet tooth, and I don't generally write about places that specialize in dessert, but over the course of a recent road trip through Ohio, I tasted more than one thing that has convinced me to lift my embargo on sweets long enough to write a post.
Today's entry: Jeni's Splendid Ice Cream.
Let me preface this by saying that I have extremely high ice cream standards. I grew up going to all of the venerable Boston-area old school ice creameries. For example, the original Steve's, back when Steve Herrel was smooshing candy into his stretchy, chewy, custard-rich ice cream on cold marble slab countertops long before the concept was co-opted by the vastly inferior (not to mention utterly soulless) Coldstone Creamery. My dad and I would dissect the relative merit of the vanilla from Toscanini's versus Emack & Bolio's (and which of the multiple locations churned theirs the best). He'd show me the secrets of his famous hot fudge (ok, famous only in our household) and how you could tell how creamy and dense an ice cream was by the way it melted and the fudge set up into chewy candy as it sat in the bowl*.
*maybe I'll share the recipe some day...
Super premium ice cream like the kind served in these old school scoop shops seems hard to find these days, but let me tell you: Jeni's in Columbus is the real deal.
Made with cream from nearby Snowville Creamery, this is the ice cream of my dreams. Dense, rich, almost chewy in texture, it sits on your tongue and melts into a mouth-coatingly rich custard. Not too sweet, but packed with flavor, it's completely devoid of the ice crystals or airy texture that mar inferior ice creams. As a savory food lover, I'm prone to comparing desserts to them: this is the ice cream equivalent of a perfectly executed torchon of foie gras. The kind of ice cream that makes you wonder how they managed to pack so much creaminess into such a small space.
Not only are their standard flavors incredible, they also offer a rotating assortment of completely seasonal flavors that are all carefully thought out and executed. Jeni's makes an appearance in the recently released Serious Eats Book where we say the following:
It's a good thing the counterfolk will let you sample your way though their offerings before you commit to an order; frankly, we couldn't help you decide between them.
You shouldn't miss out on the chance to try every single flavor in the display case (the pleasant scoopers are more than happy to oblige), but I disagree with the quote above. I can help you decide what to order if you haven't been there before: The Salty Caramel. It's their signature flavor, and impossibly delicious with the perfect salty bite floating above a deep, complex, slightly bitter caramel base.
On second thought, the Bangkok Peanut might be a better choice, with the Southeast Asian flavors of peanut and coconut tempered with a touch of hot cayenne pepper. Or if you like heat, you could also go for the Queen City Cayenne which goes for the more classic combo of chocolate and chili.
I also snagged a few licks of my friend's Whiskey & Pecans scoop which has a heady boozy flavor that hits you pretty hard before melting away to reveal perfectly toasted pecans. It's the after dinner drink of ice creams. The kind of ice cream I'd want to eat after I finished my Sweet Corn and Blackberry scoop.
Ok, so, yeah. Maybe you do need to decide for yourself.
Oh, and yes, they deliver anywhere in the U.S., so you have no excuses. Try this ice cream!
Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams
About the author: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt is the Managing Editor of Serious Eats where he likes to explore the science of home cooking in his weekly column The Food Lab. You can follow him at @thefoodlab on Twitter, or at The Food Lab on Facebook.