Liks Ice Cream – Denver’s Neighborhood Gem

I cannot believe it’s the middle of December already. Wasn’t Halloween last week?

Several weeks ago (but feels like two days ago), I made my annual pilgrimage to Denver, Colorado for the Great American Beer Festival (GABF). It was my sixth year in a row attending the festival, and I swear it gets better every year. The GABF brings beer lovers from around the world to sample over 2,000 different American brews. And for those who are gluten-sensitive like me, there’s plenty of gluten-free brews to try.

K and I stayed with our close friend Elysia, who lives with her Great Dane pup in a charming apartment in Denver’s Capitol Hill neighborhood. On Sunday morning, K jumped in a cab  to catch an early flight back to Seattle. My DC-bound plane didn’t take off until the evening, giving me Elysia and me a full afternoon of “girl time.” We decided to take the pup on a long walk around the neighborhood. Plenty of people had the same idea, as it was an unseasonably-warm fall afternoon. IMG_6454After walking around the neighborhood, a girl gets hungry. Luckily, Elysia knew just the place for a quick sugar fix: Liks Ice Cream.

A neighborhood institution since 1976, Liks Ice Cream appears to have quite the fan base. I was shocked to see so many people enjoying ice cream on the outside patio in the middle of fall. And I was likely one of the few tourists around, as Liks is a bit off the beaten tourist tracks of Denver. Plenty of families and dog-owners were relaxing in the sunshine and enjoying delicious-looking homemade ice creams.

IMG_6455IMG_6456Inside, Liks Ice Cream continues its neighborhood-y vibe, with colorful decor, laminate tabletops and a no-frills counter.  Featured prominently on the wall was a chalkboard listing the available ice cream flavors.

IMG_6493 IMG_6457Like any great neighborhood ice-cream joint, Liks’ flavors run the gamut from the “safe” (i.e. Vanilla, Chocolate and Strawberry) to the kid-approved (i.e. Cotton Candy and Yellow Cake), to the trendy (i.e. Salty Butter Caramel or Maple Bacon Fudge). There are even a couple options for the vegan or lactose-intolerant crowd, like the Pomegranate Sorbet. And once you’ve decided on your flavors, you can order a cup, regular cone, homemade waffle cone, homemade dipped waffle cone, sundae, milkshake, malt or a float. Phew, that’s a LOT of options!

After quite a bit of deliberation, I ordered a double scoop of Cinnamon and Coconut Peanut Brittle. Elysia went with a cup of S’Mores and Salty Butter Caramel. I thought the prices (little over $4 for a double) were fairly reasonable for a city.

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Coconut Peanut Brittle (L) and Cinnamon (R)

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Salty Butter Caramel (L) and S’Mores (R)

The verdict? Liks’ ice cream is just what good old-fashioned ice cream should be: thick, creamy, and flavorful. The Cinnamon was fantastic; the perfect blend of vanilla and cinnamon made for a refreshing and addicting treat. I’d be happy eating the Cinnamon again and again… and it would pair perfectly with a slice of pumpkin or apple pie.  The Coconut Peanut Brittle wasn’t what I was expecting but it was nonetheless a delight to eat! I was expecting coconut ice cream with peanut brittle bits, but this tasted more like creamy vanilla with bits of toffee and peanuts inside. The bits weren’t very crunchy, but they had great flavor. I had no problem polishing off my cup. I also took a bite (or two!) of Elysia’s Salty Butter Caramel, which was creamy and buttery. Liks’ version is less salty than many versions I’ve tried — in a good way! The salt accentuated (not overpowered) the caramel flavor. While I didn’t try the S’Mores (due to my gluten intolerance), Elysia reported that while the graham flavor was too subtle, the marshmallows were “perfection.”

While Liks Ice Cream might not be the fanciest or trendiest, its friendly vibe and good old-fashioned ice cream makes it a real neighborhood gem.

The Stats:
Liks Ice Cream
2039 East 13th Avenue
Denver, CO 80206
http://www.liksicecream.com/

Take I: Sweet Action in Denver

I’m back! Apologies for the lack of posting around here lately. My employer sent me to Massachusetts for three weeks to help a Congressional campaign. After working 12+ hours/seven days a week,  I’m happy to say that my candidate (narrowly) won. But immediately after the election, I was sent to San Francisco to give two different presentations. So I’m still playing catch-up with my “normal” life.

Now, where were we?

Oh yes, Colorado.

We all had a fantastic time at the Great American Beer Festival. What can be better than sampling over 1,800 different beers from over 400 of the best breweries in the nation? If you’re gluten-sensitive like me, have no fear – the festival has been featuring more and more gluten-free varieties in recent years. I’m not nearly the beer enthusiast that my boyfriend and Elysia are, but I always have a blast at the Great American Beer Festival. Despite four hours of unlimited beer samples, the crowd is a jovial one. No drunken brawls to be seen here, and no one spills their beer on me. (Both are too-common occurrences in DC).

When we awoke the next morning, food was on everyone’s mind. It seems that eggs and bacon are the choice “hangover recovery” foods for most, but I’m usually in the mood for something cold and sweet. After a brunch of omelets and oatmeal, I casually asked Elysia if she’d ever been to the famous Denver ice cream spot called Sweet Action. She hadn’t even heard of it before! I informed her that US News & World Report ranked it #7 in their list of America’s Best Ice Cream this year. And, the wonderful friend she is, Elysia took my not-so-subtle hint and agreed to drive by.

Sweet Action Ice Cream is located in Denver’s South Broadway district – an area not often frequented by tourists. I’m told that South Broadway, or “SoBo” as the locals call it, was once a shady strip of adult theatres and grimy bars. But after a couple decades of revitalization, SoBo now gave me the vibe of a small California beach town. Walking down busy Broadway street, you’ll find indie art shops, trendy boutiques, antique shops, and funky little cafes. And Sweet Action is nestled right in the heart of the… well… action! We actually heard it before we saw it, as Sweet Action’s garage-style storefront was open to welcome the warm early-fall day. Inside, the garage-like decor continues. Concrete walls and floor. Very few tables and chairs. The menu board is the only decoration. We had to wait five minutes in line before placing our orders. Something I found strange for an early Sunday afternoon in October. I can only imagine how packed Sweet Action is on Friday evenings in July!

What sets Sweet Action apart from the competition is their ever-changing eclectic flavors and focus on local ingredients. Sweet Action also offers vegan ice creams, sorbets, and ice cream cookie sandwiches. According to my online research, some of the cult-favorite flavors include Thai Iced Tea, Stranahan’s Whiskey Brickle, Blackberry Lavender and Salted Butterscotch. But planners beware: Don’t set your heart on any flavor here, as Sweet Action rotates their flavor offerings with lightning speed. It’s best to arrive with an open mind (and empty stomach).

Before I could even peruse the menu offerings, a posted sign grabbed my attention:

The Colorodo Beer Ice Cream Fest? Turns out, Sweet Action highlights its best beer-infused ice cream flavors during October in honor of the Great American Beer Festival. This year’s lineup included ESB Oreo (Breckenridge Brewery Extra Special Bitter Ale), Colorado Peach Wheat (Wynkoop) and Tiramisu Stout (Strange Brewing Stout). But sadly, unlike the GABF, the Colorado Beer Ice Cream Fest didn’t offer gluten-free options. And don’t worry – I didn’t pity myself for one minute. There was no shortage of non-beer flavors to consider.

While I was mulling over the menu, Elysia pointed out that many folks were asking for samples before placing their orders. As it turns out, you don’t feel bad about asking for samples at Sweet Action; the staff actually encourages it! And while I had a flavor in mind, I took advantage of the sample-loving culture and tasted a flavor I’d never seen before: Goat Cheese Beet Swirl. Wowza. That tiny spoonful sure packed a punch. The ice cream was creamy and intensely flavorful; no one could mistake it for anything but goat cheese. The dark red swirl of beets was sweet and helped ease the potent goat cheese aftertaste. I have to admit, I simply don’t like goat cheese enough to eat more than a teaspoon of this ice cream. Still – I’m happy to have tried it. If you really dig goat cheese, this one’s definitely for you!

In the end, I went with Caramelized Pear. Feeling a bit dehydrated from the GABF, the thought of cold, juicy pears was incredibly appealing. I was so certain of my choice that I didn’t even request a sample before forking over $2.75 for a single scoop.

The verdict? This generous scoop of Sweet Action’s Caramelized Pear hit the spot in a way that few ice creams do. It was densely creamy and served at the perfectly-freezing temperature. Cold enough to melt slowly in your mouth, giving you ample time to let the complex flavors hit your palate. The pear taste is more subtle than other pear sorbets or gelatos I’ve had. But it holds it own against its warm, buttery caramel counterpart. The rich and sweet combination of flavors is comforting and refreshing. The texture is lightly gritty – but in a pleasant way that reminds you of Sweet Action’s commitment to fresh, local ingredients. This flavor would be perfect for Thanksgiving dessert – if only it was available every day. When I checked out the website a few weeks later, Caramelized Pear was already off the menu. You gotta move quick, or Sweet Action will pass you by.

The Stats:
Sweet Action
52 Broadway Ave
Denver, Colorado
(303) 282-4645
http://sweetactionicecream.com/

Georgetown Valley Candy Co.

The last few weeks have been hectic for me at work. While I don’t work in politics, it seems like everyone in Washington, DC logs more hours during election seasons. Work has been the first thing I think of when I wake up, and the last thing I think about before I fall asleep. Needless to say, I’ve been in need of some serious R&R – and I was thankful to get a taste of it last weekend in Colorado.

One of my best friends, Elysia, is a Colorado native. We met and became friends while living in Seattle. While we both moved away a couple years ago (me to grad school in DC; she back to Denver), we remain very close. I periodically crash with Elysia and her Great Dane, Rupert, when work sends me to Denver. And this past weekend, the boyfriend and I spent a weekend in Colorado to attend the Great American Beer Festival. It was the fourth GABF for me, and it was the seventh one for the boyfriend. To be honest, it’s not just the GABF that keeps me coming back every year – it’s the chance to hang out at Elysia’s parents house right outside the town of Idaho Springs, Colorado. Elysia’s parents are the type of people that instantly make you feel relaxed and invited. I feel as comfortable in their house as I do in my own; rummaging through the fridge, wearing my sweats, and helping myself to whatever I find. Their house is actually a two-level cabin, complete with a wood-burning stove and brick oven. The cabin sits next to a mountain stream, and you can actually fish off the back porch! It’s a little piece of heaven.

When I can tear myself away from the wood-burning stove and porch fishing, I love exploring downtown Idaho Springs. This little town of less than 2,000 people is nestled in the mountains about an hour outside of Denver. In 1859, the first gold in Colorado was discovered here. And it’s impossible to ignore the state’s mining history in Idaho Springs today, with the Argo Gold Mine & Mill perched on a hill overlooking the town and the number of old railroad tracks you drive over. The town is also a halfway point between Denver and Breckenridge (a super-popular skiing destination), so it boasts more restaurants and shops than most towns of its size. On Saturday morning, Elysia, the boyfriend, and I drove downtown to grab some ice cream before we needed to leave for the Great American Beer Festival.

The Georgetown Valley Candy Company is located right in the heart of downtown Idaho Springs. This is actually the second location; the company is based in nearby Georgetown, where its owners have been producing high-quality candies and chocolates in small batches for over twenty years. What makes the Georgetown Valley Candy Company unique is the focus on old-fashioned classics like caramel corn, salt water taffy, classic fudge, and different types of nut brittles. The Idaho Springs store is a bit smaller than the Georgetown flagship, but the selection is just as extensive.

We were already big fans of Georgetown Valley’s candy from prior visits to the Idaho Springs shop, but I had yet to try their homemade ice cream. According to the extremely friendly store clerk (seriously, this guy was very enthusiastic and knowledgeable), the two dozen ice cream flavors are all made in Georgetown and trucked to Idaho Springs on a regular basis. And – like their candies – Georgetown Valley Candy Co.’s ice cream flavors pay tribute to some old-fashioned favorites, such as Butter Pecan, Black Cherry, and Rocky Road. But other flavors were quite contemporary, like Cotton Candy, Green Tea, and PB&J. Elysia picked one of the more new-age flavors: Cookie Dough. I was feeling indecisive, but I finally ordered a kid-sized scoop of Butter Brickle after it came highly recommended by the store clerk. With the enthusiasm this kid had, he could sell ice to an Eskimo. When he told me the ice cream featured Georgetown Valley’s own butter brickle candy, I was sold. Butter brickle is very similar to English toffee (the center of a Heath bar), and it reminds me of my mother’s dad. My grandfather (aka “Pops”) was a gruff man, but he demonstrated his love for me and my sisters by sneaking us pieces of gold-wrapped toffee whenever my parents weren’t looking. Now I realize that they wouldn’t have cared about the candy, but the sneaky way in which Pops shared his toffee made it feel like we were sharing a special little secret. What can I say? The nostalgic feel of Georgetown Valley Candy Company’s Idaho Springs store was making me sentimental.

Before leaving the store, I also purchased my mom a bag of Georgetown Valley’s black licorice hard candies. My mom adores black licorice, but I don’t think she’s had it in hard candy-form. The store clerk rang my purchase up, asking for $4.25. Thinking it was a mistake, I reminded him that I’d also ordered an ice cream. Surely the candies and ice cream would not cost less than five dollars. But, indeed, they did! Nostalgic treats at nostalgic prices. Talk about a win-win.

The verdict? Talk about comfort food. Instead of throwing in chunks of hard brickle, Georgetown Valley blends thick, gooey swirls of liquid butter brickle into the ice cream. But have no fear, there are little bites of the hardened toffee. The buttery warmth of the brickle was a nice contrast to the coldness of the dessert. But I have to say, I’m glad I chose the smallest size. This ice cream is a tad too sweet – even for someone like me, with a mouth full of sweet teeth! If I could chat with the owners, I’d suggest they use a less-sweet ice cream base to highlight the sweet butter brickle. After all, the candy is the star of this ice cream. Elysia was also happy with her choice. While Georgetown Valley’s version of Cookie Dough wasn’t the best she’d ever had, Elysia was happy with the generous size of the cookie dough bites. And both Elysia and I agreed that you just can’t beat the value or customer service at the Georgetown Valley Candy Company. This might be a new Colorado tradition for me.

The Stats:
Georgetown Valley Candy Company
1501 Minor Street
Idaho Springs, CO
(720) 242-9524
http://www.shopgvcc.com/