Tuesday, May 29, 2012

First Thoughts: Sprinkles Ice Cream

When Sprinkles Cupcakes opened in Beverly Hills in 2004 it created nothing short of mass hysteria. Introduced as the world's "first cupcake bakery" and quickly billed by the L.A. Times as "the progenitor of the haute cupcake craze," locals and tourists alike went straight batty for Candace Nelson's cake and frosting creations. Now eight years, nine locations and thousands of imitators later, Sprinkles and cupcakes are rather ubiquitous. It's not a verb like "Googling" yet, but "Sprinkling" is certainly not too far fetched nowadays. So it's no surprise the team decided to move beyond cupcakes by tackling two other classic American desserts: ice cream and cookies.

Located next door to the original cupcake location (and the recently added Cupcake ATM) in the former La Salsa spot, Sprinkles Ice Cream premiered to Avengers-like fanfare this week. I must admit with lines snaking around the block since they opened their doors I was rather hesitant to brave the crowds to sample some ice cream and cookies. But after a long week, I found myself really jonesing for something sweet, so the lady friend and I packed up the Prius and hit up the new fancy ice creamery before catching a late night "Moonrise Kingdom" screening (I know - that sentence is so LA, it even makes me throw up). Here are my First Thoughts...

THE SPOT: Despite featuring mostly classic ice cream flavors (vanilla, butter pecan, rocky road), the look of the place is anything but staid. The super sleek, smooth and contemporary interior reminded more of a Miami nightclub than a corner ice cream store. Larger than the Cupcake location next door, the whole room revolves around a circular bar in the middle behind which the scoopers do their magic. Almost like a stage play, everything revolves around this center stage. Nice little touches included the menu (with pricing) on the wall to your left when you first walk in and Thomas Jefferson's ice cream recipe scrawled out in the dome above the ice cream bar. As cool of a design as it is, Sprinkles, like many other small, it restaurants of the moment (I'm staring right at you Milo & Olive), provides the same door for entrance and exit. So, when the place is packed as it was upon my visit, you must literally squeeze through the front door/exit to get out of the place. This almost caused an ice cream collision - which would have ruined my day.

THE MENU: The menu currently features twenty flavors. As aforementioned many tend toward the traditional, but there are also some unique offerings like Cap'n Crunch. I would have to admit the flavor menu is a little bit of a letdown. After what Sprinkles has done with cupcakes, I expected a little bit more. However, it doesn't appear they plan to rewrite the ice cream originality books like they did previously with cupcakes. Rather, they aim to enhance the classic ice cream experience - "a back to basics creamery with a Sprinkles twist," as they put it. The "twist" apparently includes slowly churning the ice cream, using only local Straus Family dairy and offering exclusives like a red velvet waffle cone and cupcake top ice cream sandwiches.

THE VESSELS: The person in front of us ordered a chocolate cupcake top ice cream sandwich and we were both disappointed with the amount of ice cream squeezed in between the tops. For $6.50, it certainly did not seem worth it. Especially if you could get a scoop here and an actual cupcake with the frosting next door for a similar price. Thus, we opted for a Red Velvet Waffle Cone with one offering and two chocolate chip cookies as part of a sandwich for others. The Red Velvet Waffle Cone was good, but not great. Despite the red coloring, it barely offered anything more than a waffle/sugar cone hybrid flavor. At $1 extra though it stands as one of the menu's best deals and probably will be the it Beverly Hills accessory of the summer. As for the chocolate chip cookies (which, like the cupcakes next door, can be ordered in bulk for birthdays and office parties and such), they were pretty superb. Thick, dense goblets of dough chock full of Callebaut semi-sweet chocolate chunks, they oozed with vanilla and butter undertones. Definitely one of the better chocolate chip cookies in the city - and definitely the highlight of the Sprinkles Ice Cream trip. NOTE: No human, not even the Unemployed Eater, could eat both cookies and the ice cream in one sitting. Maybe offer a one cookie open-faced version? WARNING: do not be fooled by the pedestrian-looking stock image cookies that align the shop's walls. The real things pleasantly look nothing like it. Although they were out of all the other cookie varieties, I certainly look forward to trying the Salted Oatmeal Cornflake on my next visit. Find the rest of the cookie menu here.

THE ICE CREAM: Heading into the visit, I had every intention to sampling the Salted Caramel ice cream if for no other reason than to compare it to Sweet Rose Creamery's version. Unfortunately by the time we made it to the front of the line, they were sold out, so we settled for Dark Chocolate and Red Velvet. The dark chocolate was incredibly rich and creamy, however, I don't think I would order it again. Despite the use of Valrhona cocoa, like most chocolate ice creams, it just didn't provide the pizazz that other flavors often do. On the other hand, the Red Velvet will surely be Sprinkles' signature flavor. And why not. It's a wonderful marrying of the old (cupcakes) with the new (ice cream). A sweet cream flavored ice cream with red velvet cupcake bits and cream cheese frosting swirled in. I did enjoy the flavor, but I didn't really detect the cream cheese frosting. I also must add that the cookie ice cream sandwiches are a whopping $8.50. If you are paying that much -- the price of five delectable Diddy Riese ice cream sandwiches -- you better get more than the three-fourths of a scoop I was served. I know you want to prevent the ice cream from squirting out the side, but COME ON!

FIRST THOUGHT CONCLUSION: Although there were a few hiccups (out of ice cream and cookie varieties), those are to be expected of a new spot and it was a relatively pleasant first visit to Sprinkles ice cream. I certainly recommend a visit - although be prepared for arduously long lines (and overhearing annoying Beverly Hills High kids' conversations - for example, "She's a bitch, but I love her like I love my dog...") throughout their inaugural summer. The creamy ice cream certainly deserves a spot amongst the city's upper pantheon, so Sweet Rose, Scoops and Carmela's watch your back. Surprisingly though, the cookies shined above all and will be the subject of many daydreams to come.... like right now... coo-kie... wait, what were we talking about?

Sprinkles Ice Cream.
9631 S. Santa Monica Blvd (Little Santa Monica), Beverly Hills.
On the World Wide Web.

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