Classic New England flavors at Quietside Café

The second half of my August trip to Acadia National Park was quite special because it was just me and my parents. I can’t tell you the last time I had my parents all to myself for more than a day. As the oldest of three sisters, I told my parents that it was a thro2wback to “the good old days, when I was an only child!” Just kidding! I absolutely adore my sisters 🙂

My parents and I made the most of our last days on Mount Desert Island. One morning, we fulfilled a lifetime ambition of mine: get up early enough to watch the sunrise from the top of Cadillac Mountain, the first place to see the sunrise in the continental US. My mom sweetened up the awful experience of getting up at 4:30am by bringing a thermos of hot cocoa to share. And, man oh man, I’ll never forget this view.

After the sunrise, we took it slow for the rest of the day. After a relaxing afternoon swimming and reading at Echo Lake. After our last lobster dinner of the trip (I forget the restaurant’s name!), we headed back to our campsite. But we had to drive through downtown Southwest Harbor, and my parents agreed to make a pit stop at an ice cream shop I’d spotted earlier: Quietside Café & Ice Cream Shop.

Quietside Café & Ice Cream Shop epitomizes classic New England ice cream culture: family-owned business, a cluttered but quaint store covered with linoleum floors and wooden tables, strong smells of hot fudge and homemade waffle cones, and tubs of homemade hard ice cream in many different flavors. The only thing missing was an ice-cream window.

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img_0606At 8:30pm on a humid summer evening, the shop was crowded with big families, groups of teenagers, and couples of all ages. Quietside Café does not post its ice cream flavors, so you have to wait to read the labels on the freezer. This adds a lot of pressure to people like me who don’t take flavor decisions lightly! When we got to the head of the line, I quickly scanned the flavor signs taped to the ice cream freezer. All the traditional flavors were represented — Chocolate, Mint Chocolate Chip, Pistachio Nut, Coffee, French Vanilla — along with a few New England favorites like Moose Tracks (vanilla ice cream with fudge and peanut butter cups), Pink Peppermint Stick (which we New Englanders savor year round), and Grapenut (want some high-fiber cereal with your dessert?!).

I spotted something bright red in one of the tubs… it was a flavor I’d never heard of: Maine Lobster Tracks.  The young woman behind the counter told me it was vanilla ice cream with lobster shaped chocolate-covered caramel cups and a chocolate swirl. Since I was already in the mood for chocolate, I went ahead and ordered a scoop of the Lobster Tracks. My mom and dad shared a cup of Pink Peppermint Stick and Maine Black Bear (vanilla ice cream with a black raspberry swirl and chocolate raspberry truffles).

img_0607This ice cream ain’t cheap — $4.50 for a single scoop and $6.50 for a double scoop. Including tax, these two ice creams cost me about $12!

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From top: Maine Black Bear & Peppermint Stick, Lobster Tracks

The verdict? This ice cream fulfilled our cravings for dessert, but none of the flavors blew us away. I liked the generous amounts of lobster caramels in my scoop of Lobster Tracks, but the candies themselves tasted a bit fake and chalky, and I could barely taste the caramel in them. I did like the chocolate swirl, which was deliciously fudgy. My parents kindly allowed me take a nibble from their shared cup. I found the  Pink Peppermint Stick to be strong and refreshing, reminding me of my favorite store-bought version from Friendly’s. The Maine Black Bear was good but a bit too icy. The chocolate truffles were way better than the ones in the Lobster Tracks, and the black raspberry swirl was thick and fruity.

Overall, we thought the ice cream at Quietside Café was light and sweet, but not as creamy and rich as most high-quality homemade ice creams. And sure enough, after doing some online research, I discovered that Quietside Café doesn’t make their own ice cream… rather, they serve Gifford’s ice cream. Gifford’s is based in Maine and is available at stores and restaurants throughout New England. So while I appreciate that Quietside pays homage to New England ice-cream flavors and setting, I wouldn’t recommend that someone go out of their way to visit. Instead,  I think most ice-cream lovers would have a better luck at Mount Desert Island Ice Cream!

The Stats:
Quietside Café & Ice Cream Shop
360 Main Street
Southwest Harbor, ME 04679
(207) 244-9444

Hong Kong’s Ice Cream Gallery — Foie Gras and Lobster, Oh My!

After a relaxing and luxurious few days in the Maldives, it felt strange to be in the bustling metropolis of Hong Kong. (I should mention that we visited before the major protests, which I’m watching on TV right now!)

Hong Kong is one of K’s favorite cities, but this was my first time visiting. And even after just 36-hours there, I can totally understand his infatuation. There is a magical quality to the city; it’s a densely populated with both people and skyscrapers, but the hilly and lush terrain gives it a Jurassic Park-like feel. And Hong Kong was an important British colony until 1997, when it was formally handed over to the People’s Republic of China. So it retains some of its British/western identity and has a huge expat community. So we were able to find a craft-beer bar for K and a gluten-free grocery store for me!

Hong Kong is well-known for its vibrant food scene. The number of Michelin-starred restaurants is growing, and world-renowned celebrity chefs like Gordon Ramsey and Jamie Oliver have recently opened restaurants. K and I had one of the best meals of our honeymoon here, at Ho Lee Fook, where everything is spicy and addicting (I’m looking at you, shredded chicken salad with the mysterious “strange sauce”).

But the most memorable culinary experience I had in Hong Kong took place in the late afternoon, when I was on the hunt for some local ice cream. And while I’ve had tried some very interesting flavors (remember cheese gelato and yak soft serve?), nothing prepared me for our visit to the Ice Cream Gallery.

Tucked inside a shopping mall, the Ice Cream Gallery has dished up over 600 different ice-cream flavors since 1994. Owner Arron Liu is known for churning out some of the finest (and most expensive!) gourmet ice cream in Asia.

What the Ice Cream Gallery lacks in colors, it makes up for in creativity and. Much of the ice cream is created in the style of French crème glacée, made from full-fat imported French cream and eggs. Some of these flavors sound more like fine cuisine than ice cream! French White Truffle, French Lobster, King Crab (!), French Foie Gras… I could barely believe my eyes. And even the traditional, classic flavors receive the special treatment; Pure Vanilla features Madagascar vanilla bourbon and Philippine mangoes are brought in for the Mango ice cream. According to their website, the Ice Cream Gallery doesn’t use any artificial flavors or colors, stabilizers, gelatin, or preservatives. The lack of food coloring explained why the colors behind the glass ice-cream case were fairly muted.

The most interesting savory-sounding ice creams caught K’s attention, and neither of us could settle on just one flavor. But we finally settled on four flavors (hey, it was our honeymoon!), and we ordered small cups of the following flavors:

French Foie Gras – made with fresh Roujie foie gras
French Lobster – made with fresh lobster
French Rose Champagne Chocolate – made with organic French roses, champagne and French 80% dark chocolate
Japanese Sesame 

The insane creations at the Ice Cream Gallery don’t come cheap. We had to fork over the equivalent of $35 USD for our tasting smorgasbord.

L to R: Foie Gras, Rose Champagne Chocolate, Lobster, Sesame

The verdict? I don’t think my taste buds have ever been so disoriented! I tried the Sesame first and was thoroughly impressed. Sweet, toasty, and just slightly gritty, this ice cream was delightful. It wasn’t the creamiest ice cream, but I enjoyed the airier texture. Next up was the Rose Champagne Chocolate. This flavor was sweeter than the sesame, but it retained a deep chocolatey flavor. The champagne flavor hit later, as the ice cream melted on my tongue. I couldn’t detect rose at all and wondered if I’d misinterpreted the name. Was it rosé champagne? Nope… I confirmed that rose was indeed a separate ingredient before I left. And now was the time for the savory flavors. The Lobster ice cream immediately reminded me of a rich lobster bisque…. but frozen and a tad bit sweeter? I’m not sure if the sweetness was just left over on my palate, or if there was actually a bit of sugar involved. The Foie Gras definitely tasted sweet, but it lacked the distinct fatty and salty flavor of foie gras. K said that if it was a blind taste test, he wouldn’t have known it was foie gras (and the boy loves his duck liver). Neither of us wanted to finish the two savory ice creams, but we were both glad we’d tried them. The Sesame, on the other hand, I couldn’t let go to waste. All in all, I’d really only recommend the Ice Cream Gallery to adventurous eaters. If you’re a vanilla-or-chocolate kind of ice-cream eater, you may prefer to try Hong Kong’s other shops. But if your taste buds are up to a challenge, walk run on over to the Ice Cream Gallery for an unforgettable experience.

The Stats:
Ice Cream Gallery
Windsor House/ICG Shop (Ground Floor – G16)
311 Gloucester Road, Causeway Bay
Hong Kong
http://www.icecreamgallery.com.hk