Summer is never complete without multiple ice cream stops, I should know; I basically try to hit all the good ones when I get the chance (when most of your meals are rather boring, or you’re spending much of your time controlling the diet and running on a treadmill, what can I say? You just end up craving sundaes, or whatever ice cream you can find covered in hot chocolate and crunchy things). And this year gave me the opportunity and personal drive to hit our main two mobile frozen-dairy businesses, both of which popped up last year and focus on hand-crafted, smaller batch products made with good local ingredients when they can find them. But instead of tackling separately (and having to debate whether they should be full or quasi reviews), I decided on something new, fun, and different! Which is why, for the first time, I’m writing a DUAL review on our two belters of churned sugar-milk ecstasy! Let’s see how it goes!
Having opened in September of last year, Cranky’s Ice Cream has been setting up their cart at various markets, street fairs, and other events in the Twin Cities. Focusing purely on the classic American-style Ice Cream, these are the true Sugar+Cream (or some mix of milk and cream) bases that have been churned in some of our favorite classic soda shops for decades. No eggs here. Flavors themselves are also kept rather traditional, finding things like Mint Chocolate Chip, Chocolate, Coffee, Cookies n Cream, etc, while their more ‘fun’ and ‘experimental’ offerings still keep in line with these base desires. Doughnut, Chocolate-Orange, XXX Chocolate (no clue, but I want), Peanut Butter n Jelly, ‘Whiskey Sour,’ even one made with Porter. They also have tried a couple Strawberry things with Margarita and Jalapeno. These can all be placed in a basket, cone, or even a pint glass!? (gotta love that merchandise)
I was lucky enough, after quite a few disappointing misses, to hit Geno’s Gelato on their 1-year Anniversary! How awesome is that? Contrary to Cranky, these guys belt out pure Italian treats, offering churned Ices (basically Sorbetto), proper Gelato (a mix of Milk, Eggs, and Sugar), and apparently even Cannoli, though I haven’t heard about that offered on the cart until now. Produced from ages of the Gioielli family’s traditions and love for food and brought to life by chef Bethany Nelson’s creations, family member Brian takes these chilled delicacies and carts them all over the Uptown area on his bike-cart. Finding them can be an adventure, or one can simply give them a call/message and have Brian ‘deliver’ himself to a particular location in the area for your needs!
Flavors are also rather changing, with classic and some twisted mixes based on the style. Some of the ‘ices’ can include Lemon, Mojito, Margarita, Strawberry-Lemon or, most popular, Mango Mint. Whereas the gelato consists of traditional Vanilla, Amarena, Nutella (okay not ‘classic,’ but simple), and Pistachio. These bases can then be seen highlighted with swirls of Salted Caramel, Cherries, or found as offerings like Blueberry Basil, Peanut Butter Pretzel, and Strawberry Champagne. All of it pre-scooped and handed out in their own pretty, attractive packages.
Making frozen custard without eggs (and I mean naturally, no damn chemical stabilizers and powders to cover up your mistakes you lazy corporate bastards!) can be a challenge, but when done right can lead to that delightfully creamy, simply slippery and sweet delight from our childhood. For the most part, Cranky’s does it well, creating frozen spoonables that I find little complaint in taking down; the texture and consistency isn’t able to get to that fully sinful height which the best custards can get to (I think it’s a roundness thing, not to mention that extra flavor depth that eggs and dairy can create), but good for the style.
I grabbed the sampler, which for the day included Mint-Chocolate-Chip, Chocolate-Orange, they’re sorta-famous Doughnut, and Porter. The first two tasted just like one expects them to; the doughnut was rather awesome, it got the flavor and those little pieces of that classic cakey ballpark doughnut (the perfect kind for their style and cream flavors), I appreciated the fact that, mixed in, one could tell the doughnut improved the texture of the cream (sort of like those cake batter ice creams from you-know-who). The Porter, on the other hand… well, I love the idea, and it’s cool how they do it. They actually make their own porter beer base; dark malts, cooked with water for an hour or so along with hops, only not fermented into the beer and I’m pretty sure kept at its more concentrated, very sweet and malty-flavorful stage. This is then added to the ice cream, which makes it taste AWESOME, just like a simple malty porter, mission accomplished… until we talk about the texture. Which is icy. Because they added a liquid and didn’t find a way to get it back to a balance that would have left it churning smooth again; perhaps if they got it even MORE concentrated and syrupy to add beforehand. Oh well, it’s a single low point, the rest is nice.
Geno’s Gelatos, on the other hand… were all icy. I only got the chance to try two of their creations, both gelatos, but the structure of each ended up a little firm, sort of icy, not smooth at all. I should say though the flavor was AMAZING; I would imagine their Italian Ices are fantastic, fruity, and something where I don’t mind this not-so-smooth texture. We had the Blueberry-Basil and Cherry-Amaretto, the fruit of which is mixed in at the end (I think the cherries were dried) as opposed to pureed to flavor the cream like I thought it might have been. And I’m glad for this, really being able to get each of the berries, I think the cherries were dried, and the amaretto and basil flavors infused into the custard came out so nicely.
But I still find disappointment when left with a custard known for its soft, fluffy texture come out so icy. And I know why it’s like this, ultimately a bad combination of unfavorable factors. Firstly, true gelato (which I know this is) is, as mentioned, a mix of egg, milk, and sugar, often with little to no cream. Even with lots of egg yolks, this can leave for a thinner custard, getting that ideal more difficult; then, Geno’s decided that, instead of keeping these in big buckets to scoop for service, they pre-scooped and transferred individual servings to small, portable containers for quick service. This is cute and fun, a cool little idea, but the time it had to spend out of the freezer to do this, even if brief, often makes ice cream icier (won’t go into detail why). Finally, these are kept in a simple box stuffed with ice to keep frozen as opposed to a temperature-controlled bin, which is VERY important to gelato shops, as true gelato is actually kept at just a little bit warmer than the ice cream we’re used to. This is a factor which helps to keep this milky custard smooth, whereas an even colder cart like this would just firm it up even further.
… sorry, I had to get that rant off my chest, been nagging at me that I couldn’t bitch out all the technical stuff (I may not be able to make the best ice cream at home, but I still know the important stuff about it!).
Cranky’s Ice cream can come in a basket, or as I mentioned a pint glass, needing a spoon but super-easy to walk around with, and an absolute requirement when getting a sampler (the only way to do it in my opinion). But you CAN get the cone… not the fun cookie or waffles one, that wafer thingy, bleh… but instant one-handed eating, perhaps with some dripping depending on temperature and how long you take to eat it, somewhat likely. So advantage there.
Whereas Geno’s has everything in its own cute, adorable little to-go container for awesome fast portability to eat there, elsewhere, or on the go. Can’t go one-handed with it really, but extra points for its own tight, condensed little bowl which gives no mess whatsoever.
$4 for your ice cream of choice, or one can get a full sampling of all four flavors they have on that day for just $6, prices always come reasonable and one can get a decent deal for more. (can also spend $10 for a sampler AND logo-studded pint glass)
Geno’s differs with what one gets, $4 for each pack of gelato, $3 for an Italian ice, and $2 for a cannoli (if they have any). I feel like you’re getting a little less product with them, but the price option range dips even lower so money score rates about the same in my opinion.
One needs only the minimal time to scoop the ice cream at Cranky’s, but the complete pre-packaged, personal containers for Geno’s truly makes this the best grab-and-go frozen custard out there.
The TOE: 7/8.5
Ice cream always makes for an attractive and fun experience whenever you go somewhere, especially when it’s pedaled by such bright personalities as these. The whole concept of Geno’s, attached on a bike and reveling in the area and culture that is Uptown, really stands out and hits strongly, especially when one finally finds and flags them down off the street; though the act of hunting them down can at times be a bit of a struggle. Though the little personal packages are also a fun addition to this ‘atmosphere’ and identity, I do almost wish that I could see them scooping the gelato from some big tubs (especially since it’d probably be better for the gelato’s texture vs the container transference and other things). As for the one that DOES do it, a nice set up as well, not quite as colorful, seemingly closer to that older-school basic ice-cream-shop vibe, which has that nice appeal to it. Though I wish they either went more retro and ‘soda-shoppy’ or just refined and amped up their presentation/selection some more, as part of it feels just a tad ‘lacking,’ like they’re right in the middle between the rather basic/boring places that sell ice cream and the modern shops we often so love today (Izzy’s, Sebastian Joe’s, etc). Some sort of extra push towards retro or today’s modern would round things out perfectly; perhaps some options for toppings?
Cranky’s brings a nice stop during events for those looking for something reminiscent of the ice cream we enjoyed growing up on, and is definitely one of those great places where one doesn’t have to settle on just ONE flavor. Though if you’re inclined towards that direction, and don’t just go towards the classics (I won’t judge, but I still think it’s more fun to have a flavor you haven’t likely already tasted 50 times before in your life), there are some notes to keep in mind. Anything flavored with something already thick/starchy/custardy, like Chocolate, Peanut Butter, or just involve a simple mix-in, and won’t affect the structure in any way except, perchance, to make it SMOOTHER, go for. The Doughnut is amazing for this, and I really enjoyed their Chocolate-Orange (anything chocolate or peanut butter is good I’d imagine). Avoid anything that will involve the addition of some other liquid, such as the Porter, Whiskey-Sour, and perhaps those Strawberries; they sadly don’t adjust it back too well.
Geno’s comes through as the perfect quick grab-and-go frozen treat, an ideal stop for street fairs with multiple food stops, especially for the price conscious. As one can assume by my reaction earlier, skip the Gelato, but head straight to one of the refreshing Italian Ices, where the texture is not just accepted but revels in the style. Mango-Mint is the real standout, but anything seasonal or alcohol-reminiscent should be just as fun. Though, now that I think about it, there is a chance the Nutella and Peanut Butter-based ones might turn out at least decent texture-wise.
Either way, both of these carts still make for a happy little frozen and flavorful treat on a sunny day. Do stop at one if you get the chance!