Thursday, June 2, 2011

Ice Cream Sandwich Head to Head: Carmela vs. Coolhaus

With summer approaching fast, it's ice cream sandwich time. The mere mention of ice cream sandwiches summons my memories of hanging out around the pool as a kid. Then we ate flavorless vanilla ice cream sandwiched between soggy, flavorless "chocolate" wafers. Now, ice cream sandwiches are trendy and you are more likely to find basil-avocado ice cream on hand-made chocolate-toffee cookies. I'm planning on doing some serious ice cream sandwiches this summer, so I thought I'd kick it off with two of the most well regarded: Coolhaus and Carmela.

Carmela Ice Cream

I've long been a fan of Carmela, and even though they now have a brick and mortar store in Pasadena, I still make my purchases at their Sunday Hollywood Farmers Market stand. Carmela's ice creams are fresh and bursting with flavor. The cookies are thin wafers-types, like a flavorful version of the traditional sandwich. The salted caramel sandwich features their lovely salted caramel ice cream sandwiched by chocolate wafers dotted with salt crystals. Carmela does a fabulous mint ice cream that radiates with garden-fresh mint flavor which is sandwiched in a chocolate wafer. The plain vanilla sandwich on a chocolate wafer is also wonderful, hearkening directly back to the classic. Everything about these sandwiches works, the ice cream and cookies are both wonderful and the proportions are right on, with just enough ice cream that each bite yields ice cream and two pieces of cookie.

Carmela Ice Cream
2495 E Washington Blvd
Pasadena, CA 91104
Also, stands at the Sunday Hollywood Farmers Market and Thursday South Pasadena Farmers Market.

Coolhaus Ice Cream Sandwiches

Coolhaus started as an LA food truck with an architecture theme - each sandwich is named after a famous architect or architectural movement. They are planning a store in Culver City, and in my neighborhood, you can find their sandwiches at Kalbi Burger. Coolhaus sandwiches are more comparable to the Its-It, with a more substantial cookie and larger scoop of ice cream, than the traditional ice cream sandwich.

I tried four Coolhaus varieties. My favorite was the Mintmalism, featuring a double chocolate cookie with mint ice cream. The mint ice cream was good, though not as transcendent as Carmela's, and it went well with the chocolate cookie. The Mies Vanilla Rohe, was a good solid sandwich with vanilla ice cream and a chocolate chip cookie, though the cookie, as with most of the Coolhaus cookies, was overly sweet. I liked the Thai Tea ice cream in the Thai Tea sandwich with a ginger cookie (which seems to lack an architect themed name), but the cookie was so heavily spiced that it completely overwhelmed the more subtle ice cream. Last, and least, was the Sir Francis Candied Bacon. Now I admit that I never jumped on the bacon dessert bandwagon, but the brown butter candied bacon ice cream in this was just nasty. The texture was icy and gloppy and while the candied bacon wasn't bad, there were also globules of fat (or was that the butter).

Coolhaus Ice Cream Sandwiches
Food Truck and coming soon to:
8588 Washington Blvd.
Culver City, CA 90232

The Winner

Carmela easily wins this contest. Other than the bacon sandwich, the Coolhaus collection was fine, but the flavors lacked the fresh, beauty of Carmela. The other problem with Coolhaus is that there was no sense of gestalt. The cookies were very sweet and often overwhelmed the ice cream, and the proportions were such that it was hard to get a bite of each element. It's as if more thought went into the clever architecture related names than the composition of the sandwiches themselves. Meanwhile, Carmela managed to perfectly synthesize the elements with strong, beautiful ice cream flavors and a subtle cookie that tasted good but didn't overwhelm.

There will be more to come this summer. Let me know if you have a favorite ice cream sandwich.


sam k said...

Pennsylvanians sometimes like their ice cream with pretzels, and the Carmela sandwich sounds like it delivers that perfect combination of sweet and salt.

I can almost tatse one from 3000 miles away!

sku said...

Ice cream with pretzels. I could sort of see that working. I'll have to make it out to PA one of these days.

sam k said...

We got good eats and drinks back here, Sku! You're welcome anytime. Two rye whiskey distilleries opening this summer!

sku said...

The return of Pennsylvania rye! Very cool.

Dommy said...

Nice! I've been resisting Carmela for a long time... they sell them at Curious Palate, so I just might pick one up tomorrow...

And I got another westside contender (sorry!), Platine Bakery makes their own ice cream sandwiches, just for the summer and they have some great cookies and ice cream! :)

Regular Chumpington said...

Sam is right... my wife turned me onto pretzels with ice cream. It's great - perfect mix of salty and sweet (the usual caramel + fleur de sel never worked for me).

I haven't hit Carmela since Pasadena is halfway to Vegas, but I may have to. I've tended to be underwhelmed by Coolhaus - I think they rode the early food truck zeitgeist but their ice cream has never been a home run for me.

I'll throw in a westside vote that has been a favorite for a while (though admittedly I haven't dug into their ice cream sandwiches - virtually everything else though): Sweet Rose Creamery.

It's another Josh Loeb/Zoe Nathan spot (Rustic Canyon, Huckleberry) as well as a guy from Tartine in SF. It's at the Brentwood Country Mart... well, no one's perfect.

sam k said...

I think the pretzel addition is a PA Dutch thing...