By Ryan Laverty
While my friends and I enjoyed an afternoon out in the Chinatown section of Center City Philadelphia, I found an advertisement for rolled ice cream. I immediately reached for my phone and did a search for “rolled ice cream.” My search resulted in links to several shops. It surprised me that there were eight creameries within a square mile of my location.
Rolled Ice Cream in cups originated from street vendors in Thailand. Small shops began to open in the United States after videos went viral. To construct rolled ice cream, the milk and sugar base is poured and then spread out on an ice-cold pan. Preparers use dry wall dry-wall knives and spatulas to chop ingredients and scrape the frozen cream mix into little rolls. I was excited to try this new desert and to see for myself why it was trending in the city. I chose two places, Sweet Charlie’s and I CE NY based on their location and proximity to other popular eateries in downtown Philadelphia. I graded on taste, presentation, atmosphere and price and used a five-star scale.
The first place was Sweet Charlie’s, which is across from Washington Square at 711 Walnut Street. This is located down the street from Philadelphia’s Historical District surround by attractions such as the Liberty Bell and Benjamin Franklin’s House. Sweet Charlie’s opens after lunchtime at 1:30 pm and is not busy. The business is easy to walk by without notice because it is very small. The store front has a window where people can see the staff prepare the frozen treats. Inside the establishment, there is no seating and in its place a few high counter tops. The menu is small and straightforward offering ice cream, frozen yogurt, and a vegan option. These items are placed in cup, on a crepe, and even on a glazed donut bun. I went with the cup for $7 dollars which allows for unlimited toppings. They offer ten ice cream flavors to choose from with names like Rise & Shine, featuring the cereal Cinnamon Toast Crunch, and Love Park, which contains chocolate peanut butter and pretzels. I went with Death by Chocolate that contains chocolate chips and brownies. After placing my order, the staff squirts the milk and sugar mixture on to the cold pan and adds the chocolate bits and pieces. The preparers mix the cookie and brownie toppings as the concoction begins to freeze. Once the mix is frozen, preparers scrape it into tubes of ice cream. Customers then choose from fresh fruit, candies, or sprinkles from the toppings list. I chose bananas and whipped cream so I would not overpower the ice cream.
The finished product is not exceedingly creamy which adds to the flavor as the ingredients create the excitement for the taste buds. It has a dense consistency that I enjoy as it holds the dessert together for a pleasant presentation. On this warm day, the rolled ice cream held its shape and lasted longer than the canned whipped cream. At a little over two cups, the portion is enough to share with a date or a friend. The staff sliced the bananas made to order, and the freshness proved delightful compared to artificial toppings found in other ice cream parlors. Due to the chopping and mixing of ingredients on the cold pan with the ice cream mixture, the flavor was consistent throughout. I was very happy with rolled ice cream, and it was worth the time to experiment; however, it did not blow me away.
For taste, Sweet Charlie’s receives 4 out 5 as it was very good but it lacked a punch that I felt would drive this product to become a trend. It was well worth the try, and with added toppings and combinations on the menu, the ice cream could have scored higher. For presentation, I gave a 5 out of 5 as the little rolls of ice cream in a cup have a fun aesthetic. With different flavors and toppings changing the colors and swirls, it is a wonderful visual. They scored a 4 out 5 for price as $7 dollars for unlimited toppings on a modest menu is still a great selling point. Sweet Charlie’s is a great place for a mid-day snack in a laid-back part of the city. For a snack while reading a book near Washington Square or a casual date, I recommend Sweet Charlie’s. I deducted points for the unfriendly and unenthusiastic staff that has a high potential to be a unique experience.
When I ventured out on Saturday afternoon to find another trendy rolled ice cream location, I discovered I CE NY, which labels itself as the originator of Thai rolled ice cream. It is in Chinatown’s newest hot spot Chinatown Square at 1016-18 Race Street. As one young resident called it when I asked about rolled ice cream, “You need to go to CT square!” I CE NY is based at the entrance of a two-floor structure that contains a multicultural food experience containing Mediterranean, Korean, and Latin cuisine. The building also contains vibrant bars with a night club vibe and represents the rise of the college age group that venture into Center City, as well as the rise of Chinatown being an attraction to not only tourists but to local fun seekers.
I CE NY is only a bit larger than Sweet Charlie’s with only two benches for seating, but there are seating options within the rest of Chinatown Square. This place is crowded in the afternoon, but at night the lines are long as the staff create made to order rolled ice cream. With bright stainless steel counter tops and light blue paint on the walls, the place has a contemporary feel and is very clean. The staff are friendly and highly animated, and they command a presence that Sweet Charlie’s employees lacked. The menu at I CE NY is large. There are many options of ice cream flavors including weekly specials and a rotating flavor of the month. There is even a choice for the customer to create his or her own ice cream flavor by combining elements of the existing menu. Flavors like Honeydew, Viet Coffee, Fruity Loops are fun and exciting.Toppings range from different cereals and candies to fresh fruit and cookies.
I kept my choice very similar to my previous experience at Sweet Charlie’s and selected the Chocorilla, which contains chocolate ice cream, banana, Oreos, Pocky, and Nutella spread. The price is the same at $7 dollars for a cup with unlimited toppings, and the portion size is a bit larger. The staff lively tossed their tools in the air and dramatically chopped the ingredients while wearing a smile. The staff looked like they were having genuine fun much to the delight of the patrons. The flavor was amazing and consistent throughout, thanks to the expert mixing and chopping. The texture was softer and less dense, and the actual cream shined and allowed the toppings to blast through every scrumptious bite. The combination of ingredients before getting to the toppings made for wonderful flavor and experience. I did not even add any other toppings other than chocolate sauce and whipped cream.
I CE NY gets a 5 out 5 for taste because they had excellent combos of flavors and the idea of a rotating menu made me want to come back. Presentation was top notch, a 5 out of 5 as the finished product is visually appealing and the many colors of the toppings enhances the delight of eating the ice cream. The animated staff made the wait for the ice cream feel like a performance. This scored them a 5 out of 5. For $7, customers have many options, and the portion size is large enough to share between friends.
Overall, I enjoyed Thai rolled ice cream and would visit in the future. Both places are highly recommended. For a quiet middle of the day adventure, I would go with Sweet Charlie’s—maybe while reading for school on a beautiful day downtown. But, for the college aged who want to mingle and explore of what Philadelphia’s night life, a visit to I CE NY in Chinatown Square is the call. Whip out your phones and Google places in the Center City section of Philadelphia because it is the only area you will and be able to try Thai rolled ice cream. Explore and enjoy.
Ryan Laverty is a third year secondary education major who loves ice cream, cats, and exploring the city of Philadelphia.