Never Mind the Sizing, Just Try a Scoop: Solid Gelato at A. B. Biagi

2014-05-16 13.51.33

With the return of the summer season, I can finally stop making excuses for my near-constant ice cream craving. Intellectually, I always want ice cream, regardless of how the rest of my body feels about it. I’ve recently discovered I’m genetically predisposed towards this condition, when my father told me that his mother ate a bowl of ice cream nearly every day of her life. So it was really only a matter of time that I stumble into a new cup-and-cone-commissary, wide-eyed and near-drunk with the anticipation of embracing my birthright once more.

The first entry in my list of Summer 2014 frozen desserts is A.B. Biagi, a small and relatively new (they opened last summer) gelateria on Elizabeth St. Jacob and I paid a visit after our falafel-fest at Taim, braving intermittent rain to once again test the veracity of a Serious Eats rave review.

(I suppose you could argue that I’ve already broken the seal with my inhaling of a Sprinkles Sundae, but I’d counter that the focus of that dish was split between ice cream and cupcake, whereas A.B. Biagi is all about the gelato.)

 

First Impressions:

The priority at A. B. Biagi is clearly the making, rather than the serving of gelato, since the kitchen dominates the space.

The priority at A. B. Biagi is clearly the making, rather than the serving of gelato, since the kitchen dominates the space.

As I mentioned above, A. B. Biagi is only a few short blocks away from Taim, a gelato oasis in the relatively scoop-free Nolita. The bright yellow exterior gives way to a tiny store front, narrow, yet deep, with most of the space devoted to the kitchen. Inside, the walls are covered in white tiles on the bottom half, with the upper sections decorated with unconventional paintings evoking scenes of Italy on one side, and a large mural of a woman (A.B. herself?) on the other.

 

A. B., is that you?

A. B., is that you?

Across from the counter is a small bench that offers the only seating. The set up is similar to Il Laboratorio del Gelato, albeit smaller and less clinical in decor — the goal is to get you in, ordering gelato, and out again, with minimal hanging around. Although in our case, we were the only customers on a rainy Friday afternoon.

 

The Food:

 

Size is in the eye of the beholder...

I guess at this shop, size is in the eye of the beholder…

A. B. Biagi offers a rotating selection of 6 flavors of gelato, a couple of sorbets, and espresso, coffee, tea and hot chocolate (covering all your temperature-based food needs). On our visit, the options were Stracciatella, Chocolate Brigadeiro, Vegan Almond Butter, Pistachio, Chia Pudding, and Coffee gelato, and Lemon and Guava sorbet. Any of those can be scooped into A. B. Biagi’s somewhat confusingly named sizes — Tiny, Small, or Regular — which remind me of the McDonald’s strategy of renaming Super Size as Large, hoping we wouldn’t notice that the actual volume stayed exactly the same. The cashier warned us that the Small cup holds more gelato than you’d expect, so we opted to play Goldilocks and go neither too big or too small.

After sampling nearly all of the gelato flavors, we ended up splitting a Small cup of the Stracciatella and the Vegan Almond Butter. I was a little surprised that Jacob would ignore the opportunity to have chocolate gelato, but he said the Chocolate Brigadeiro was a little too sweet, and I concurred that it might be best left as its own dessert (as former employees of Brazilian animated film director Carlos Saldanha, we’ve been fortunate enough to sample more than a few authentic brigadeiro varieties, such as those from My Sweet Brigadeiro).

 

Vegan and non-vegan gelato, meeting briefly for peace-talks before being forced to coexist and my stomach. Vegan Almond Butter on the left, Stracciatella on the right.

Vegan and non-vegan gelato, meeting briefly for peace-talks before being forced to coexist and my stomach. Vegan Almond Butter on the left, Stracciatella on the right.

As promised, our cup came piled high with gelato, split between the two flavors. The Stracciatella was composed of a thick and intensely rich sweet cream base, speckled with dark chocolate shavings still big enough to offer a bit of a snap as you bit down on them. Whereas the Chocolate Brigadeiro fell more on the milk chocolate side, the chocolate in the Stracciatella was just over the edge of bitter, providing a nice contrast to the sugar of the gelato base. I was hit with a bit of childhood nostalgia when eating it, suddenly taken back to bowls of Breyer’s Chocolate Chunk ice cream out of my parents’ freezer, my teeth struggling to crack through the semi-sweet chocolate chunks.

Yet despite the memories called up by the Stracciatella, my favorite of all of A. B. Biagi’s flavors was by far the Vegan Almond Butter. Although we asked the cashier, he wasn’t sure what the base of the gelato was. It tasted like it was made of almond milk, but had the same thick consistency as the non-vegan Stracciatella, leaving me curious as to how they achieved that chewy texture (most vegan ice cream recipes I’ve seen call for coconut milk, but I couldn’t detect any coconut flavor in A. B. Biagi’s version). Regardless of the technique, the Vegan Almond Butter was absolutely delicious, creamy gelato that had a subtle almond taste, no frying-pan-to-the-face of almond extract here, punctuated with the sweetness of the almond butter, thinly swirled throughout so it was more like an array of crunchy crystals rather than a ribbon. I’ll admit that after being a lifelong peanut butter fanatic, I’ve been on a bit of of an almond butter kick, adding it to my yogurt in the morning and a few cookie recipes. It feels like a more adult flavor (at least, the raw unsweetened version I bought) — somewhat more restrained, but still giving you that wonderful nuttiness. That was the level of flavor in A. B. Biagi’s gelato as well — not the orgiastic sugar wonderland of say, Sprinkles‘ Rocky Road, but a more mature, composed dessert that you should linger over.

 

Final Thoughts:

Overall, I was pleased with the quality of gelato at A. B. Biagi, and understand why Serious Eats was a fan (I think their offices might be close by, too…). However, considering the prices, I’d recommend checking out Vivoli or Il Laboratorio del Gelato first, depending on your tradition vs. innovation preference when it comes to gelato. Despite it being in Macy’s, you’ll get more bang for your buck at Vivoli, which still tops my list for classic gelato in NYC, and I’d tell anyone that you have to try some of the wacky flavors at Il Laboratorio if you’re a frozen dessert fan. Not to knock A. B. Biagi — they do offer a solid group of interesting and well-made gelatos, but just not of the caliber to break into my pantheon of ice creams. If you’re walking around Nolita or Little Italy, and you’re looking for a cool treat, I’d say stop by and try the Almond Butter. Maybe I was just born this way, but I think you can make any day better with the addition of just a little gelato.

 

A. B. Biagi

235 Elizabeth St (Between Houston and Prince)

abbiagi.com

Advertisements

Oreoception

I swear, I had grander plans for my first post. I had every intention of highlighting the culinary delights of a recent trip to Rhode Island, or delving into my new hobby of unopened  restaurant stalking. But unfortunately, and I have to admit, quite fittingly, the first post on my new food blog is going to be about Oreos.

Luckily, we’re not talking about just any Oreos — this post is about a new interloper, a possible gamechanger, an oreo that redefines what it means to be a chocolate sandwich cookie with vaguely vanilla-ish creme filling. Of course, I’m talking about the new Limited Edition Ice Cream Oreo Cookies and Creme flavored Oreos. Christopher Nolan’s cookie of choice. The Oreo-within-an-Oreo. Oreoception.

Before I discuss my encounter with the L.E.I.C.O.C.&C.s (geez, Nabisco, could you make that name longer?), I think it’s only right to explain why I literally searched every single bodega and grocery store near my apartment to find a box of these. (Side note: If you also seek the grail, check out Stop & Shop — after weeks of fruitless and awkward bodega loitering, I ended up smack dab in front of a large display at the supermarket. Facepalm.)

Here are the hard, cold facts: I have a serious, lifelong Oreo problem.

I have to imagine it started in the womb, since I can’t remember a time when I didn’t lust after anything remotely cookies & creme flavored. If it’s the cookies, I’m a brand purist, sticking by Nabisco and their claims of producing Milk’s (and at one time America’s) favorite cookie. Put away your Trader Joe’s Jojos, and don’t even talk to me about Newman-O’s. But within the safety of the National Biscuit Company’s arms, I’ll go hog-wild. Double-stuf (the real Oreo lover’s classic), golden, peanut butter, mint, mini, fudge-covered, McFlurrys, DQ Blizzards, I’m down. Show me an Oreo-themed dessert at a restaurant, and I’ll show you an inappropriate level of excitement.

As a child, I devoured Breyer’s Cookies and Creme ice cream (the blue package is the only box for the discerning Oreo lover). I would also purposefully schedule playdates to increase my chances of an afterschool bowl of Oreo-O’s (RIP, you best cereal ever). By the time I got to college, I had developed a bit of a reputation. What was the first cast gift I received as a stage manager? Well, just take a look at the photo below.

 

Me and all the oreos

I don’t know if it’s evident from the sheer joy on my face, but this was one of the best presents I’ve ever received. Inquiring minds can ask for reviews of the specific products in that photo, but let me just say that second semester of freshman year was a blur of black and white deliciousness. And I frickin saved that box of Oreo-O’s for MONTHS. (Second side note: I recently learned that you can buy Oreo-O’s from Korea off of eBay. I struggle with whether this is a valid purchase.)

So yeah, I don’t think anyone would argue that the L.E.I.C.O.C.&C.s and I were destined to be together. My favorite ice cream combo smushed inside my favorite store-bought cookie? Sounds like an express train to tasty-town in my mouth. But enough preamble, let’s open these bad boys up!

 

 

2012-10-06 13.30.34

Okay, so from the get-go you can see they’re making it absolutely clear that these are ICE CREAM flavored. There’s even a ice cream cone on the side to emphasize the comparison. (Based on scale, that’s either a giant Oreo or the world’s most adorable mini-ice cream cone.)

Unfortunately, Nabisco’s effective leading of the witness is completely necessary. But let’s not jump ahead.

2012-10-06 13.32.12

Things seemed to be heading in the right direction when I opened the package. I was a little nervous because I’ve been recently burned by the Birthday Cake Oreos. Not only did they taste awful, but you were subjected to an overwhelmingly chemically smell upon opening. It smelled like aliens had tried to re-engineer a cake out of amino acids. The L.E.I.C.O.C.&C.s also had a strong aroma, but thankfully it was the heady scent of dairy mixed with vanilla. It reminded me of opening a pint of actual C&C ice cream, or unwrapping a Hershey’s Cookies & Creme bar. I sniffed a solitary cookie — even the chocolate part smelled of ice cream.

2012-10-06 13.36.23

 

These guys are somewhere between Double Stuf and Classic thickness, which I appreciate as a creme-over-cookie fan (seriously, if they sold Oreo filling in jars, I would buy it). The sandwich was very easy to twist, and you can see that the layers separate cleanly. The creme is strangely greyish in color, with what appear to be flecks of cookie throughout. I imagine if we go deeper, Joseph Gorden-Levitt is in those flecks fighting in a revolving hallway of sugar (okay, okay, last Inception joke).

But as a I alluded to before, despite a solid foundation of smell and look, these cookies really just under perform on taste. The cookie layer is your classic Oreo, which wasn’t surprising — after all, the filling is clearly supposed to be the star here. But the creme was just grainy and very mild compared the to the strong flavor suggested by its smell. It lacks the intense sweetness of regular Oreo creme, and it doesn’t taste anything like my old Breyers Ice Cream or Hershey’s C&C bars. And alas, just like the Birthday Cake Oreos, there is a strange chemical aftertaste that lingers as a bitter note.

What the creme really reminds me of is the non-cookie products in the Oreo line — like the fudge sticks or Oreo-O’s. They approximate Oreo flavoring, which I can get behind since they’re not trying to be a cookie, but here it just doesn’t make sense. You’re trying to be the meta-Oreo — you should taste like the ultimate, authentic cookie!

Overall, the Limited Edition Ice Cream Cookies and Creme Oreos were not flat-out gross like their Birthday Cake counterparts, but I’d probably choose regular Double Stuf over these guys the next time I’m buying. It just doesn’t seem worth it to eat a milder version of almost-Oreos.

That said, I’m probably about to devour this whole box. I mean, I just spent an entire post describing my unreasonable affection towards Oreos — now Mama’s jonesing for a fix.