August 7, 2015
By Peter Genovese
Helpful sign, Cookman Creamery, Asbury Park (Peter Genovese I NJ Advance Media for NJ.com)
Yoda, psychics, monster trucks and The Dudes.
What do any of those have to do with a Munchmobile search for the Shore’s best ice cream?
Yes, the Big Dog is back and, as usual, never one to shrink from a challenge.
There are dozens of worthy contenders for the Shore ice cream crown. Several of the 11 stops we made are legends — Hoffman’s in Point Pleasant Beach, Springer’s in Stone Harbor, Duffer’s in Wildwood. Surely one of those would walk away with Top Dog honors?
Not so fast. Would a relative unknown beat out the big boys?
(Note: This was strictly a hard ice cream trip, so no Kohr’s, Kohr Bros. or any other soft-serve stand).
GRACIE AND THE DUDES, SEA BRIGHT
Michelle McMullin had to wait for her cows to come home. When she and her husband decided to open an organic ice cream store, little did they know that they had to get on a waiting list for organic cows to produce the milk they needed.
It took all winter and a “lot of head banging” to get their ice cream recipe right, but they did and opened Gracie and the Dudes, named after the couple’s daughter and two sons.
It’s a bright, shiny place with maybe the biggest sprinkles dispenser anywhere.
Our Munch crew was picky, picky all day. Mary Beth Gabel’s favorite here was the peanut butter, with “nice chunks of PB,” but she believed the vanilla chip and strawberry needed “more intense flavor.”
The father-daughter duo of Al and Rachel DeSantis favored the malt madness, while Paul Sbrocco found the chocolate the “most appealing.” A Pier Village, Long Branch store is set to open next week.
COOKMAN CREAMERY, ASBURY PARK
Norah Marler once owned an ice cream truck, but told her kids years later she would open an ice cream store on one condition: they would have to come up with a vegan ice cream recipe.
That they did, and Cookman Creamery opened three years ago. There are 16 regular and eight vegan flavors of hard ice cream, even vegan soft-serve. Marler uses coconut milk in the vegan ice cream.
Leave those vegan stereotypes at home; the vegan ice cream is dee-lish.
“I had my doubts,” Renee Olson said, “But the vegan blueberry was delightful, gossamer in body. My udder favorite was lemon cookie cream — sublime.”
Yes, she said “udder.”
Gabel judged this the day’s “freshest-tasting ice cream,” with “bold and well-blended” flavors.
My favorite: the Almond Joy vegan ice cream.
“When life gives you lemons, you should definitely hand them over to Cookman so they can make their lemon cookie ice cream,” Rachel DeSantis said.
HOFFMAN’S ICE CREAM & YOGURT, POINT PLEASANT BEACH
This Route 35 store, which started as a Carvel’s in 1955 and became Hoffman’s in 1976, is a Shore legend, with other locations in Spring Lake Heights, Long Branch and Little Silver. There are 40-some flavors of hard ice cream in Point Pleasant Beach.
The Munch jury was split. Al DeSantis: “It wasn’t bad but it wasn’t great; I struggled to locate any pieces of brownie in the brownie a la mode.”
Gabel loved her pairing of toasted coconut with key lime — “it’s like vacation in a cup.”
Rachel DeSantis found the graham cracker lacking in chocolate or marshmallow, but loved the key lime — “light, refreshing and not too sweet.”
My favorite: the toasted coconut.
Back in the Big Dog, Sbrocco took to calling me ”Yoda” — every time he asked for food tips around New Jersey, I had a ready answer.
I don’t mind acting like the Star Wars character, but I sure hope I don’t look like him.
CHARLIE’S HOMEMADE ICE CREAM, SEASIDE PARK
Open 30 years, Charlie’s still seems to fly under the ice cream radar. There are umbrella-topped benches outside.
Sbroccco was Charlie’s biggest fan. “Everything we sampled hit on all cylinders,” he said. “Nothing but flavor, flavor, flavor.”
Olson thought the various chocolate flavors here “got closer to the rich chocolate flavor I crave” than any other stop; she especially liked the chocolate fudge brownie.
Al DeSantis called Charlie’s “an unassuming little gem,” and thought the shop delivered the day’s overall best consistency.
“Their offerings were delicious and their flavors on point,” Gabel said. “Not too dense, not too sweet, but full of flavor.”
Her favorite chocolate of the day: the Jamaican almond fudge,” and I agreed.
MRS. WALKER’S FAMOUS HOMEMADE ICE CREAM, FORKED RIVER
This Mrs. Walker’s opened in 1986; other locations are in Toms River, Beachwood, Manahawkin and Lakehurst.
This may have been the day’s weakest stop. Several Munchers thought the mint oreo tasted like toothpaste.
Rachel DeSantis thought the blueberry cheesecake “tasted kind of like vanilla with a little bit of blueberry goop,” and the cake batter “tasted more like bubblegum than cake.”
Dad Al loved the pistachio and cake batter, though.
“They all looked good, they just did not deliver,” said Sbrocco, who nevertheless liked the peach Italian ice.
There’s a Suicide Sundae here — five scoops of ice cream, four toppings, bananas, cherries and whipped cream.
ICE CREAM SHOP OF MANAHAWKIN, MANAHAWKIN
What’s with the monster truck outside The Ice Cream Shop of Manahawkin? Owner Carl Manfra collects/sells cars and trucks; he owns the taxi seen on “Boardwalk Empire.”
There’s a psychic next door; her rates are posted inside the ice cream store, once a Mrs. Walker’s.
How’s the ice cream? “There had to be a shop that played fast and loose with the flavors, and this was it,” Olson noted.
“Bummer that the makers couldn’t pull it off,” she added. “The maple bacon was all maple and the pineapple habanero was all habanero.”
But she loved the chocolate banana — “bold, smooth … both flavors creating perfect harmony.”
Rachel DeSantis thought the cheesecake ice cream “kind of just tasted like air,” but she loved the key lime — “really creamy and subtle.”
SPRINGER’S HOMEMADE ICE CREAM, STONE HARBOR
Long lines at night attest to the popularity of Springer’s, which has been making ice cream since Prohibition. Which accounts for the Prohibition Tradition ice cream, made with coffee ice cream, nuts and chocolate swirls. Feeling not quite yourself? Get the Emotionally Nuts ice cream, with its Almond Joy-like flavor.
I was solo on the Munchmobile for the Southern Shore stops, but kept to our routine: eight flavors at each stop. If you like creamy ice cream, Springer’s is your place; all those sampled were surpassingly smooth.
Favorites: the Moreo (mint oreo), banana, Chocolate Overload.
Disappointment: peach. Tasted like it was made in a laboratory. In fact, I didn’t find a first-rate peach ice cream on either day.
Another Shore ice cream legend, Duffer’s, in its 41st year, offers an ice cream parlor, restaurant, arcade and miniature golf.
Eight more flavors, but none of them were standouts. The pistachio and vanilla fudge were the best of the bunch. Another lifeless peach, and I tried real hard to find a hint of pina colada in the ice cream of the same name.
FINE FELLOWS CREAMISTRY, CAPE MAY
This parlor is the new kid on the ice cream block; it opened on Mother’s Day. The ice cream is not homemade; it’s from Philadelphia-based Bassetts, America’s oldest ice cream company. Founder Samuel Bassett started making ice cream in his Salem, N.J. backyard in 1861. The company once made 50 tubs of borscht ice cream for Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev
It may not be homemade ice cream, but it sure is good, and the cheery store is across from the beach. I loved the pomegranate blueberry chocolate chip, moosetracks, and the chocolate.
The only disappointment: the peach, but on this mission I was used to that.
VANILLA BEAN CREAMERY, LOWER
No Web site, no official Facebook page; it’s hard to keep a lower profile than this roadside ice cream business, located about a quarter-mile south of milepost 0 on the Parkway. It is not in Cape May, despite what the Internet says.
I’ve called Vanilla Bean the Shore’s best ice cream previously; how would it stack up against the creamy competition?
The entire trip’s best mint chocolate chip was here, and the chocolate — clean, straightforward — was one of the two or three best.
Only disappointment: the coconut, which was not especially coconut-ty.
FLECK’S ICE CREAM, VILLAS
Villas — where’s that? Along Delaware Bay, just northwest of Cape May. and home to Fleck’s, open 23 years. It’s definitely all in the family here; manager Megan Fleck told me her parents, and six of her seven brothers and sisters, work in the store.
The ice cream is Richman’s; there are nearly 40 flavors of hard ice cream, including some creative if not kooky ones (jelly donut, Mississippi mud pie). This might have been the best peach; not great, but at least it didn’t taste as if it was concocted in a laboratory. Good chocolate, but my favorite was the coconut ice cream, with coconut flakes.
AND THE WINNER IS . .
Springer’s, Fine Fellows and Vanilla Bean stood out on day two, but I’ll agree with the majority of Munchers that the Shore’s best ice cream was found on day one. Charlie’s in Seaside Park earned applause, but the Top Dog is Cookman Creamery, Asbury Park.
TOMORROW’S TRIP: We’ll search near and far for the state’s best pancakes and waffles. Where should we go?
Aug. 8: Pancakes and waffles
Aug. 15: Thin-crust pizza
Aug. 22: Cheesesteaks
Aug. 29: Bagels
Sept. 5: Chili dogs