Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Travels with frenchie

Part XII: Ice-cream men

Posted on Wed, Aug 26, 2009 at 4:00 AM

Release Date: 2009-08-26

Welcome to the next installment of Travels with Frenchie, the monthly food series in which a trio of culturally mismatched San Antonians explore our city’s culinary nooks and crannies. As always, our team consisted of Frenchie (aka Fabien Jacob, sommelier at Le Rêve), Carlos the Bike Mechanic (aka Carlos Montoya, informal taco scholar), and me (recovering vegan and known taco-truck stalker.)

Sometimes the most unlikely places are the ones hidden in plain sight. We headed downtown to the River Walk, that “body” of water  typically abandoned by the locals, to search for ice cream. But not just any ice cream. Without much fanfare, Justin’s Ice Cream left its Monte Vista location and returned to the River Walk where it first opened in 1981 (though owner Justin Arecchi has operated various establishments on the River Walk since shortly after HemisFair ’68.)  The sign on the door at Justin’s former Monte Vista storefront indicates that Ruta Maya coffee is taking over that location. We stopped by Justin’s new/old digs on an early Sunday evening for a cool, refreshing release from the maddening heat.

Justin’s is located underneath the Navarro Street bridge at Crockett, and for those who want to find an easy entrance and exit, there is a stairwell at the northwest corner of that intersection that leads you directly to sherbet, yogurt, ice cream, and gelato. We tried to get some sense of a cross-sampling. Frenchie kept to sherbet and chose passion fruit, pineapple, and cantalope. Sherbet may get lost in the shuffle for most people, but that would be a shame. All the flavors were excellent. Never for a moment did any element taste artificial, overly sweet, or out of balance. Frenchie tried to find something to object to, but it was was near impossible.  

Carlos dabbled in a bit of everything: lime sherbet, strawberry swirl  ice cream, and rum-flavored gelato. Carlos is known to eat a pint of Häagen-Dazs for lunch, a mid-meal snack, or before embarking on a 50-mile bike ride, so I was curious to know what he thought of Justin’s. Like Frenchie, Carlos found the sherbet to be excellent, but raved about the decadent gelato. Though completely different from the light sherbet, a similarity presented itself — somehow Justin has a way of balancing all the ingredients into a singular whole in which nothing seems missing or excessive.

A  latent impulse took over, and I ordered chocolate-chip ice cream, as well as the strawberry swirl and almond gelato — a potentially odd combination to put in one cup, especially when  the flavors recombine in unexpected ways at the end, but it worked.

In the hour we sat at Justin’s we counted at least 20 tourist-customers, which is pretty good business for a Sunday night when most of the seasonal travelers have fled back to Oklahoma and the Midwest. The recent Museum Reach expansion of the River Walk is appealing to locals, and so it seems less likely to lure them back to the original River Walk. But the ice cream at Justin’s is so flavorful we think it’s worth the effort.

Final thoughts

Frenchie: It’s hard to find anything wrong with any of the flavors. Everything is excellent.

Carlos:  The gelato … man, that was awesome. Rum, almond, hazelnut — all great options.

Me: For less than $5, one can pack a lot of flavor into a large cup, though there’s nothing wrong with trying the small. Next time I want to try the sherbet.

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