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Aug 2, 2006 11:56 PM

Carvel Ice Cream - better than plastic surgery

Carvel Ice Cream is starting to open in the San Francisco Bay Area and I just visited their store in Berkeley on Bancroft Way right across the street from the University of California.

I grew up in Connecticut and nothing was better as a kid than Carvel Ice Cream. It’s been a loooong time since I’ve tried a Carvel soft serve. I expected to be disappointed. It was better than the memory.

Carvel’s vanilla / chocolate twist is simply the best soft-serve I’ve ever tried. We’re not comparing this to frozen custard ... that’s a different category ... but soft-serve ice cream.

It is the only chocolate soft-serve that has any flavor ... true chocolate ... and even the vanilla holds up to the chocolate in the twist. The vanilla flavor doesn't get lost. The texture is smoother and more creamy than any other soft serve.

Since this was my first Carvel’s in a very long time, I didn’t get the dip. I wanted to evaluate the ice cream on its own.

BUT ... since my last visit they have something new ... cones DIPPED in chocolate ... with colored jimmies outside. And the chocolate dip on the cone tasted like chocolate, not the waxy tasteless stuff like on McDonald’s, Tastee-freeze, Foster’s Freeze or Dairy Queen.

Even the cone was good, and almost cake-y with that chocolate coating. Excellent, excellent, excellent.

The shop is just great. They have all these sprinkles now and they sell regular ice cream. I don’t know how that is, I don’t care. As long as I have my soft-serve, I’m a happy kid.

I am sure there will be lots of responses with Carvel naysayers.

But you don’t understand ... I’ve been living in California ... I just spent $4.50 the other day for an organic soft-swirl with a dip of Del-Rey chocolate ... neither ice cream nor chocolate had any flavor. And the other toppings at that place ... olive oil with sea salt. Enuf said.

We’re talking about SF an area where bacon ice cream gets raves. A little olive oil on that?

So tell me about Carvel today. What is good? There seems to be so much ...

- ice cream apples

- ice cream canoli ... the idea makes my knees weak
- ice cream truffles
- ice cream neopolitans
- ice cream brownies

- classic sundaes and sundae dashers

• Mint Chocolate Chip
• Chocolate Peanut Butter Cup
• White Raspberry Truffle
• Bananas Foster
• Banana Split
• Chocolate Covered Strawberry

There are regular cones, waffle cones, dipped cake cones (vanilla & chocolate), sugar cones

There are smoothies, shakes, fizzlers and Carvelanche.

And how about the other ice cream? Anything good?

At the Berkeley store there is a white chocolate dip in addition to the chocolate dip. How does that taste?

Today I walked into Carvels and for $2.19 ... for a little while I became ten years old again. So much less expensive than plastic surgery.

The Northern California stores

The mother ship

Mmmm ... I'm thinking a chocolate cake cone, dipped in chocolate with chocolate jimmies and chocolate soft serve ice cream ... also dipped in chocolate ... I wonder how late they are open tonight.

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  1. I've had worse soft-serve ice cream than Carvel's, but still, ugh.

    There's a list of which items use hydrogenated fat here:

    6 Replies
    1. re: Robert Lauriston

      But deliciously done ... really ...

      You know Robert, sometimes all the natural wonderful ingrediants in the world don't produce a superior product. That Straus soft-serve at Picco has the best ingrediants and tastes like nothing. Even if there wasn't a Carvels in the area, the only reason I might have ordered it again would be to try the carmel sauce. Now I don't have to put myself through that expense and torture again .. I'd rather have a Carvel carmel sundae.

      There's that discussion on the General board about what tastes better organic ... not the soft serve at Picco.

      And, as much as I love the $5 fudgesicle at Sketch, when I see parents ordering that for six year olds, I just wonder what is wrong with them. There should be joy in and appreciation of simple ice cream that is done deliciously.

      Also, I would ask when was the last time you tried a Carvel cone ... or if you tried a Carvel cone? I think that anyone with recent experience has a valid right to gripe away ... and I expect it ... not everyone will love Carvels.

      But if it has been years since you tried a cone, then it isn't a fair dismissal. Maybe it was so memorably horrible to you you wouldn't want to try it again, but let's hear how long ago that was ... they've probably changed the formula since then.

      As much as I had a loving memory of Carvels, I went in to the shop expecting it just to be a memory. I was pleasantly suruprised. And I have tried all the places I mentioned ... this year ... Dairy Queen, Foster's Freeze, Tastee-Freeze, McDonalds.

      I tried the Straus soft serve yesterday. I had Carvels today. Carvels was much tastier.

      Food shouldn't be dismissed just because the ingrediants are not what is politically correct. I have no intention of following that link to the FAQ. I don't care what's in it ... it tastes better to me and I don't have to intellectualize it to enjoy it. Hmmm ...

      1. re: rworange

        Picco's softserves are considerably less sweet and use vanilla nd chocolate instead of vanillin and cocoa which are stronger flavors. Yes, I guess you could say there is less flavor, but more of the kind of flavors that taste better to me.

        1. re: Melanie Wong

          I'm not trying to be argumentative, but have you tried Carvel or are you just reading the ingrediant list?

          I'm all up for sublte flavor too, but that Straus tasted like nothing and really, to me that chocolate dip had less taste than McDonalds.

          Not to talk anybody into Carvels, but I just don't think it is fair to dismiss something because it uses cocoa. I'll admit that the other ice cream places use cheaper ingrediants and it shows. But that chocolate dipped cone was pure chocolately pleasure.

          1. re: rworange

            Where in those two sentences have I dismissed anything? I'm not understanding your point.

            Sugar makes cold things have more flavor impact. There are a bazillion extra choco-fudgey-flavored ice creams that are black with cocoa powder because boosting with artificial chocolate flavor does make them have more flavor and sells better. I also prefer an unegged vanilla flavor, not as rich and obvious, but more pleasing to me.

            I found the Straus softserves at Picco quite lovely and not at all lacking in flavor. They shine with fresh dairy. They're about showing off the milks, which I think the softserve idea at warmer serving temperature does quite well. And, they're not slammed with sugar, so the flavors will seem muted to those accustomed to sweeter things. The vanilla flavor hit just the right tone, clear and pure, for me. The milk chocolate was less successful in my book, not giving enough intensity to raise the endorphin levels. The El Rey chocolate was far more complex and rewarding with true chocolate flavor than the last dipped cone I had at Foster Freeze moons ago. Again, it was far less sweet and didn't give immediate sugary satisfaction. Not for everyone, but it is wonderful chocolate and quite satisfying to me, and I was happy to see it at Picco as it's hard to find.

            Fooling taste buds -

            1. re: rworange

              I've had Carvel in New York. When it's 85 degress and 85 percent humidity, anything cold is welcome.

              But it's still gross stuff to my taste. Bland, too sweet, one-dimensional flavors.

              1. re: rworange

                Some hounds like desserts that are sweet, others like desserts that are "not too sweet." Us hounds who like our desserts "not too sweet" tell ourselves that we're more sophisticated. We use words like complex and subtle and dismiss other desserts as cloying. Those hounds who like their desserts sweet tell themselves that they're eating what tastes good, not what is "supposed" to taste good. They use words like nostalgia and delicious and dismiss other desserts as tasteless.
                A lot of it comes down to what your mouth is accustomed to. If you're used to eating "not too sweet" desserts than sweet desserts taste weird - overly sugary and artificial. The "vanilla" tastes like vanillin, the "mint" tastes like extract, and everything is too sweet. If you're used to eating sweet desserts than "not too sweet" desserts taste like nothing. Your mouth becomes accustomed to those strong artificial flavors. The vanilla tastes bland because you're used to vanillin, the mint tastes "like herbs" because you're used to extract. There's no right or wrong or better or worse, it's just a matter of personal taste.

                This is also true for kids. Mrs. Mousse teaches at a school in Berkeley and she loves to watch the kids fight over Sketch (a local ice cream shop that uses all organic ingredients and no additives). Some of them positively love it, others think it's awful. They look at one another like they're crazy, baffled as to how they could disagree so strongly about something as unifying as dessert. Personally, I love watching a 10 year old turn their nose up at Coldstone. Why? Because I know that nobody is more honest with themselves about what desserts they enjoy than a child.
                We could argue about the merits of Caraval vs Picco all day. The bottom line: if you like Caraval, you probably wont like Picco. If you like Picco, you probably wont like Caraval.
                Oh, East is East and West is West and never the twain shall meet.

        2. Rworange, Thanks for the posts. I'll give it a try one day and I also want a Fudgie the Whale cake!! Will you try that too? Please? Only $19.99

          1 Reply
          1. re: hhc

            Yeah, I decided instead of my Bakesale Betty birthday cake, I'm going with a Fudgie the Whale cake ... after dinner at Chez Panisse ... the perfect birthday celebration.

          2. OH... Carvel ice cream cakes were just the thing for birthdays when I was an undergrad in Ithaca, NY.

            1. I live in Illinois, outside of Chicago, we can get carvel cakes in the grocery stores, but to be honest we usually make our own. But I must admit, from reading these posts, I would certainly love to try the soft serve from Carvel. I admit to making fun of people who order soft serve, but usually only at places that serve reg. icecream or custard. But, I have grown up and realize that soft serve has it place. Around here you can really only get Dairy Queen, and it is what it is. Sometimes it just hits the spot. I hope one day Carvel opens up around here.

              1. This thread was sparked by the opening of a Carvel in Berkeley, California, a block away from a local, independent soft-serve shop, Yogurt Park, that's been around for almost 30 years.

                There's a special place for Carvel in the hate department of my heart as its founder Thomas Carvelas was in significant measure personally responsible for the American franchise plague.