A surprisingly sincere doughnut ice cream sandwich

I expected to hate it -- OK, love-hate it -- but then I found myself somewhere that feels like the best of America

Topics: Sacrificial Lam, Food,

A surprisingly sincere doughnut ice cream sandwich

There are some things so transparently cynical in the food world that upon hearing about them I immediately look for someone to blame. I felt this way about the red velvet doughnut ice cream sandwich at the Peter Pan doughnut shop in Brooklyn, N.Y. How calculatedly on-trend is this thing? Unbridled excess? Check. Deep-fried? Check. Affected hominess? Check. And sure enough, the local food blogosphere was going nuts over it. Well, mission accomplished, Captain Hook: You’re playing all the kids, for sure. You just cast the line with as much attention-getting gimmickry as … red velvet … you can … doughnuts … muster … ice cream sandwich … and … OK, well, I’ll take a bite too.

And so I arrived at the shop, and yet it did not seem … how to say this? Viral web-marketing savvy. Instead, there was a strong sense of this working-class neighborhood as it was, as it has been for a very long time. Just a look transports you to ArchieBunkerland, from the twine dispenser hanging over the register to the double U-shaped counters, where customers sit down to sassy chitchat and coffee poured from glass warming pots. The girls pouring that coffee (I prefer the term “servers” but these were definitely “girls”) wore carhop-style uniforms, ones that weren’t preciously nostalgic so much as just really old, their polyester a few shades darker than the pastels they were meant to be.

As I waited for one of the girls to split open my deep-red doughnut and stuff it with some strawberry Häagen-Dazs, I noticed the woman sitting at the counter across from me. Wide-framed with a ploof of fine hair, she took the house phone off the hook and sat back down with it, the curled cord stretching like a tripwire for the girls racing back and forth pouring their hot coffee. She must be big here, I thought. She might be the one responsible for the ice cream sandwich. I eyed her with judgment and suspicion.

“That guy just left a nickel, Bob?” she said to a man sitting at the end of the counter.

“Yeah, he said it tasted like shit,” Bob said, and the woman laughed hugely.



Elsewhere, there were old men striking up conversation with strangers to talk through their worries about the Yankees. A patient man listened to someone fret over whether to buy flood insurance. And the whole room took in, with nods of recognition, another man’s piteous talk of knee problems. I suppose at 11 a.m. on a Tuesday, you do expect a clientele of retirees at ye olde coffee shoppe. “I’ll tell you how to fix your knee – you gotta stop dancing all those fast numbers with the lookers!” a man said. No, really, someone said that. “Try the veal,” I started to hope someone would say. “I’ll be here all week.” But, listening in, the conversations sounded like comfort, the kind of small talk between old neighbors that happens only in a place where people feel at home.

The sandwich came, and it was unabashed: big and fried and oozing ice cream. But it was also served on a plate that isn’t meant to be thrown out, with a knife and fork and a neatly tucked paper napkin and an earnest admonition for me to enjoy it. It was … polite, unlike the perversities of the Burger King Pizza Whopper or KFC’s Double Down, which are calculated to shock, awe and offend. I cut it and ate bites, which were exactly the sum of their parts — cold, creamy, and crisp and cakey. It was, dare I say, understated.

“The healthiest part of the dish he leaves on the plate!” the woman called out behind me. I looked around for a moment before realizing she was talking about me. “The strawberries!” she laughed, pointing at the red bits floating on a slick of cream. “Well, why start with the health concerns now?” I asked, before asking her if she was responsible for this thing I’d just eaten.

“Yeah, it was my idea,” she said with a certain pride, before blurting, “And we were on TV for it yesterday! It was National Ice Cream Sandwich Day, and some station wanted to show it.” She was rippling with excitement. “I told all my friends to watch. Did you all watch?” she called to the room. “They came here with their cameras; I wanted to show them everything. But then I watched it and they made me talk for just one second. Oh well!” she laughed. “Our friends was happy for us. That’s what matters,” she said.

I looked toward the counters, where a few people looked up to give the woman a smile, and where I suddenly noticed a new mix of customers sitting down — black couples, young hipsters with tight pants and creative haircuts, and a young mother wearing a Muslim headscarf carrying a baby. “Hey, honey,” the woman said to her, leaning into the child. “How’s he feeling today? Is his fever getting any better?” she asked.

The baby pulled back toward his mother. “Oh, he’s so smart!” the woman said. “So young and so smart … he knows not to come to me!” she laughed. They talked for a while, the woman giving the mother advice on the fever. The baby’s father came out from the kitchen, took off his apron, and the family left, waving goodbyes.

The woman took a seat back at the counter, when one of her customers mentioned the headscarf.

“They’re Egyptian,” the woman said. “It’s made of that real nice thin cotton. You know, it’s actually cooler there to wear it, since it keeps you out of the sun.”

“Nah, I mean I don’t like that she wears it. I don’t like that they hide their face. You know? I just don’t like it,” the customer said.

“You know,” the woman said, “she’s got this friend who’s always telling her to stop wearing it. ‘This is America,’ she says. ‘You shouldn’t wear it.’ You know what I say? I say let her dress how she wants to dress. I think, this is America, she should be allowed to dress however she wants to dress.”

They moved on to talk about other things, asking about cousins and nephews, and every once in a while she would let out her big laugh. I paid my bill, waiting a while because the woman asked the server to pack five dozen doughnuts to give to the police precinct.

As I left, I took another look at the stack of doughnuts meant for ice cream sandwiches. Near them, there was a sign that read, “There are no strangers here, just friends and friends we haven’t met yet.” What kind of a cynic ever says that? I felt silently sheepish for my suspicion of the woman who runs this place. I called out to her. “Hey, thank you,” I said. “This was great.” She told me to come back soon. 

Francis Lam is Features Editor at Gilt Taste, provides color commentary for the Cooking Channel show Food(ography), and tweets at @francis_lam.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Beautiful Darkness by Fabien Vehlmann & Kerascoët
    Kerascoët's lovely, delicate pen-and-watercolor art -- all intricate botanicals, big eyes and flowing hair -- gives this fairy story a deceptively pretty finish. You find out quickly, however, that these are the heartless and heedless fairies of folk legend, not the sentimental sprites beloved by the Victorians and Disney fans. A host of tiny hominid creatures must learn to survive in the forest after fleeing their former home -- a little girl who lies dead in the woods. The main character, Aurora, tries to organize the group into a community, but most of her cohort is too capricious, lazy and selfish to participate for long. There's no real moral to this story, which is refreshing in itself, beyond the perpetual lessons that life is hard and you have to be careful whom you trust. Never has ugly truth been given a prettier face.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Climate Changed: A Personal Journey Through the Science by Philippe Squarzoni
    Squarzoni is a French cartoonist who makes nonfiction graphic novels about contemporary issues and politics. While finishing up a book about France under Jacques Chirac, he realized that when it came to environmental policy, he didn't know what he was talking about. "Climate Changed" is the result of his efforts to understand what has been happening to the planet, a striking combination of memoir and data that ruminates on a notoriously elusive, difficult and even imponderable subject. Panels of talking heads dispensing information (or Squarzoni discussing the issues with his partner) are juxtaposed with detailed and meticulous yet lyrical scenes from the author's childhood, the countryside where he takes a holiday and a visit to New York. He uses his own unreachable past as a way to grasp the imminent transformation of the Earth. The result is both enlightening and unexpectedly moving.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Here by Richard McGuire
    A six-page version of this innovative work by a regular contributor to the New Yorker first appeared in RAW magazine 25 years ago. Each two-page spread depicts a single place, sometimes occupied by a corner of a room, over the course of 4 billion years. The oldest image is a blur of pink and purple gases; others depict hazmat-suited explorers from 300 years in the future. Inset images show the changing decor and inhabitants of the house throughout its existence: family photos, quarrels, kids in Halloween costumes, a woman reading a book, a cat walking across the floor. The cumulative effect is serene and ravishing, an intimation of the immensity of time and the wonder embodied in the humblest things.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Kill My Mother by Jules Feiffer
    The legendary Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist delivers his debut graphic novel at 85, a deliriously over-the-top blend of classic movie noir and melodrama that roams from chiaroscuro Bay City to Hollywood to a USO gig in the Pacific theater of World War II. There's a burnt-out drunk of a private eye, but the story is soon commandeered by a multigenerational collection of ferocious women, including a mysterious chanteuse who never speaks, a radio comedy writer who makes a childhood friend the butt of a hit series and a ruthless dame intent on making her whiny coward of a husband into a star. There are disguises, musical numbers and plenty of gunfights, but the drawing is the main attraction. Nobody convey's bodies in motion more thrillingly than Feiffer, whether they're dancing, running or duking it out. The kid has promise.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Motherless Oven by Rob Davis
    This is a weird one, but in the nervy surreal way that word-playful novels like "A Clockwork Orange" or "Ulysses" are weird. The main character, a teenage schoolboy named Scarper Lee, lives in a world where it rains knives and people make their own parents, contraptions that can be anything from a tiny figurine stashable in a pocket to biomorphic boiler-like entities that seem to have escaped from Dr. Seuss' nightmares. Their homes are crammed with gadgets they call gods and instead of TV they watch a hulu-hoop-size wheel of repeating images that changes with the day of the week. They also know their own "death day," and Scarper's is coming up fast. Maybe that's why he runs off with the new girl at school, a real troublemaker, and the obscurely dysfunctional Castro, whose mother is a cageful of talking parakeets. A solid towline of teenage angst holds this manically inventive vision together, and proves that some graphic novels can rival the text-only kind at their own game.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    NOBROW 9: It's Oh So Quiet
    For each issue, the anthology magazine put out by this adventurous U.K.-based publisher of independent graphic design, illustration and comics gives 45 artists a four-color palette and a theme. In the ninth issue, the theme is silence, and the results are magnificent and full of surprises. The comics, each told in images only, range from atmospheric to trippy to jokey to melancholy to epic to creepy. But the two-page illustrations are even more powerful, even if it's not always easy to see how they pertain to the overall concept of silence. Well, except perhaps for the fact that so many of them left me utterly dumbstruck with visual delight.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Over Easy by Mimi Pond
    When Pond was a broke art student in the 1970s, she took a job at a neighborhood breakfast spot in Oakland, a place with good food, splendid coffee and an endlessly entertaining crew of short-order cooks, waitresses, dishwashers and regular customers. This graphic memoir, influenced by the work of Pond's friend, Alison Bechdel, captures the funky ethos of the time, when hippies, punks and disco aficionados mingled in a Bay Area at the height of its eccentricity. The staff of the Imperial Cafe were forever swapping wisecracks and hopping in and out of each other's beds, which makes them more or less like every restaurant team in history. There's an intoxicating esprit de corps to a well-run everyday joint like the Imperial Cafe, and never has the delight in being part of it been more winningly portrayed.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew
    You don't have to be a superhero fan to be utterly charmed by Yang and Liew's revival of a little-known character created in the 1940s by the cartoonist Chu Hing. This version of the Green Turtle, however, is rich in characterization, comedy and luscious period detail from the Chinatown of "San Incendio" (a ringer for San Francisco). Hank, son of a mild-mannered grocer, would like to follow in his father's footsteps, but his restless mother (the book's best character and drawn with masterful nuance by Liew) has other ideas after her thrilling encounter with a superhero. Yang's story effortlessly folds pathos into humor without stooping to either slapstick or cheap "darkness." This is that rare tribute that far surpasses the thing it celebrates.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Shoplifter by Michael Cho
    Corinna Park, former English major, works, unhappily, in a Toronto advertising agency. When the dissatisfaction of the past five years begins to oppress her, she lets off steam by pilfering magazines from a local convenience store. Cho's moody character study is as much about city life as it is about Corinna. He depicts her falling asleep in front of the TV in her condo, brooding on the subway, roaming the crowded streets after a budding romance goes awry. Like a great short story, this is a simple tale of a young woman figuring out how to get her life back, but if feels as if it contains so much of contemporary existence -- its comforts, its loneliness, its self-deceptions -- suspended in wintery amber.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Through the Woods by Emily Carroll
    This collection of archetypal horror, fairy and ghost stories, all about young girls, comes lushly decked in Carroll's inky black, snowy white and blood-scarlet art. A young bride hears her predecessor's bones singing from under the floorboards, two friends make the mistake of pretending to summon the spirits of the dead, a family of orphaned siblings disappears one by one into the winter nights. Carroll's color-saturated images can be jagged, ornate and gruesome, but she also knows how to chill with absence, shadows and a single staring eye. Literary readers who cherish the work of Kelly Link or the late Angela Carter's collection, "The Bloody Chamber," will adore the violent beauty on these pages.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

0 Comments

Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>