Local spots giving new life to the soft serve sensation.
Are you a sucker for cool, creamy whipped ice cream swirled to dizzying peaks atop a cake cone? Have you perfected the art of lapping and slurping the ripples of chocolate or vanilla (or both), carefully timing your consumption to prevent both meltage and brain freeze? Do sheer pleasure and nostalgia outweigh the added thickeners and preservatives typically found in this childhood treat? If the answer to those questions are a resounding “Yes!” – you, my friend, are one of us; a lover of soft serve ice cream.
Invented almost a century ago, soft serve ice cream is one of those ephemeral foodstuffs best enjoyed on-the-spot like cotton candy or a corn dog hot out of the fryer. Often found at fairs and carnivals, roadside stands and fast-food joints, it’s the kind of dessert made to be eaten right now, as anyone who’s stashed a DQ shake in their freezer “for later” can attest.
While we can always hit up McDonald’s for a spur-of-the-moment swirl, that is if the machine at the Golden Arches location nearest us isn’t “mcbroken”, there’s been a trend over the past decade where hip, new restaurants and shops around town are featuring soft serve for dessert. For die-hard lovers of the cool and creamy swirl, it’s been nothing short of a boon.
It’s hard to believe Mason Hereford’s famed Turkey and the Wolf, has been open for nearly seven years, but it was his childlike genius and munchie-driven brilliance that seemed to kick start the nostalgia for swirl here in New Orleans. Sure, folks head into the Jackson Avenue stand for the spicy collard green melts, towering fried bologna and potato chip sandwiches, and crunchy, buried-in-blue-cheese-dressing wedge salads – but they shouldn’t head back out without some soft serve. Other than tahini and date molasses drizzle or just colorful sprinkles, the vanilla soft serve toppings at Turkey and the Wolf change with Hereford’s (and likely the rest of the staff’s) whims, as things like key lime pie “crunk chunks,” and cheddar crumbles with fried apples have made the cut. Regardless of the topping, Turkey and the Wolf’s soft serve is pricier than most, but it typically won’t rise over the $6 mark.
Fresh from the sea, pardon, on the scene, is the oh-so socially and environmentally-conscious Wonderland & Sea on Tchoupitoulas Street. The cool corner spot is co-owned by trio Taylor Floy Hoffman, Jonathan Rhodes and Chef Joel Brown who do their damnedest to offer an affordable menu using largely local ingredients, serving “just food and nothing less.” They also believe in equitable employment (ie. paying a living wage) and a triple-threat of universal kindness. Even if it didn’t feel good to be part of their warm-fuzzy, free to be you and me-vibes, their Wonder-Bird fried chicken thigh sandwich or sweet potato biscuits are bound to bring many happy returns. Though other flavors may enter the rotation in the future, right now Wonderland & Sea is keeping it simple with vanilla soft serve on a cake cone for only two bucks. They tack on another $2 to put it in a bowl (probably to pay for the environmentally-safe dish OR twice the ice cream?), but either way it’s still a dessert that won’t hurt.
Soft serve gets a smidge pricier at Mochinut, an international chain which has, at long last, made it’s way to Louisiana. Whether you visit the store in Metairie, or their latest in Harvey, the California-born franchise offers that unique mashup of Japanese mochi and donuts to create a chewy, bubbly mochinut, a pastry which was first dreamed into being out in Hawaii. Also on the menu at Mochinut is the Korean dog, a corn dog-like creation using a rice flour batter with fun additions like mozzarella cheese, Doritos, and fried potatoes. If that isn’t enough to draw you in for a bite, Mochinut also features soft serve ice cream. “Joy” is one of four flavors (vanilla, honey butter, strawberry lemon, or melon) swirled into a chocolate waffle cone; “Bliss” is the same, but bowl-bound and festooned with boba; and “Delight” is a cool swirl in a mochinut-shaped bowl which includes a mochinut of your choosing . . . and it’s obviously the most expensive ringing in at $7. But hey, it’s soft serve with a donut!
Speaking of donuts, have you had the cafe sua da cream-filled donut at Dough Nguyener’s? Recently opened in Gretna, this cafe is the latest from restaurateur Betty Archote (nee Nguyen), purveyor of Huey P.’s Pizzeria and Thanh Thanh. Along with specialty coffee drinks, baked goods, and a large menu with both breakfast and lunch offerings (Louisiana Gulf shrimp toast with crab meat anyone?), the 5th Street spot also features Blue Bunny vanilla “Swirl Freeze,” a.k.a. soft serve. Get it plain or make it both crunchy and colorful with cereal “mix-ins” such as Fruity Pebbles or Cinnamon Toast Crunch, top it with sprinkles, M&Ms, or Oreos, or both! Just be wary, a soft serve at Dough Nguyener’s will set you back $6 plus 85¢ for each additional topping.
Finally, the last place one might expect to find soft serve ice cream is a taco joint, but surprises abound at the 1940s-era gas-station-turned-restaurant Galaxie Tacos on St. Claude Avenue. Business partners Patrick Finney and Ken Jackson launched the Bywater stand almost four years ago serving cocktails and cuisine inspired by the cuisine they experienced on trips to Oaxaca and Mexico City. Not only do they make fresh tortillas (with masa imported from Mexico) filled with mouth-watering barbacoa beef cheek or adobo pork shoulder, they also sweeten the deal with some incredibly unique soft serve. Some of the more typical combos include vanilla and blueberry, mango, or Ponchatoula strawberry, but they also kick the flavor notch way up with cane syrup, mamey sapote (a large berry tree native to Mexico and Central America) and Oaxacan-spiced peanuts. Galaxie’s incredibly exotic soft serve will set you back a whopping $4, but it will be worth every bite.
For lagniappe, and because it deserves an honorable mention, if you happen to grab a burger or some thin-fried catfish at one of the GNO’s seven New Orleans Hamburger & Seafood locations, you get a cone of vanilla soft serve (served yourself) for free! Now, I’d buy that for a dollar!
*Article originally published in the August 2023 issue of Where Y’at Magazine