An Ice-Cream Lover’s Best Friend: Husky Deli

I’m a sucker for a good “mom & pop” store. Especially one with a story. And, boy, does Husky Delicatessen in West Seattle have a good one!

The boyfriend and I spent last weekend on Vashon Island – walking along the beach, grilling grass-fed and free-range steak, reading by the wood-burning stove, drinking rice milk lattes, and weaving hemp necklaces (only the last is a joke). On the ferry ride back to Seattle on Sunday afternoon, my stomach started to growl. Lucky for me, our travels took us straight through the heart of West Seattle – with its bounty of coffee shops, bakeries, and delis. I pulled out my trusty iPhone and typed “ice cream” into Google Maps. Located right ahead of us on California Ave was Husky Deli. Yeah right, I thought, Like a deli serves anything other than Good Humor bars. But low and behold, a neon “Fresh Ice Cream” sign greeted us as we pulled up to the Deli.

It was quite crowded inside, with what looked like a young girls’ soccer team celebrating a win with ice cream. The store was larger than I’d expected, with a full-service deli, a chocolate and candy counter, wine section, and plenty of domestic and imported delicacies (mustard, pickles, etc). Given the hustle and bustle, I didn’t waste any time perusing the store before joining the line for ice cream. While I stood in line, I pulled up a couple newspaper articles about the business on my iPhone.

As it turns out, Husky Deli has been making their own ice cream for over 75 years. Herman Miller started the family-operated business in 1932, when he bought an old grocery store and installed an ice-cream-making machine by the front windows. Miller gained local fame with a special frozen creation – similar to the Nestle Drumstick – filling a cone with vanilla ice cream before dipping it in chocolate and peanuts. He called his creation “The Husky,” and soon re-named the entire store after its most-popular item. In those early years, Husky Deli sold the cones to the local public school system. And to this day, the Miller family swears that “The Husky” is what got their business of the ground. So when the Great Depression hit, Miller and his family repaid West Seattle for their business by accepting “IOUs” when folks couldn’t afford to pay for household groceries. And the West Seattle community has been loyal to the Husky Deli ever since.

These days, Herman’s grandson Jack is steering Husky Deli into the 21st century. Husky Deli still makes all of its ice cream in-store, but they’ve cranked up both the options (there are now 45 flavors) and the volume (churning out as much as one thousand gallons per week). But Husky Deli still keeps its prices low – a tough feat for small businesses these days. Prices are so reasonable, in fact, that I decided to spring for the medium-sized serving. Husky Deli calls this size a “Single” – inaccurately named because it consists of two large scoops. A quick Yelp search told me that Husky Flake was a “must-try” signature flavor, but I was having trouble deciding on my second scoop. The list of flavors was pulling me in so many directions… Should I go for an adult-esque Kona Koka Rum or Strawberry Grand Mariner? A tropical twist with Macadamia Nut or Banana? Or a chocolate creation like Caramel Pecan Fudge or Rocky Road? I decided that I was in the mood for chocolate (let’s get real – this isn’t a mood… it’s my state of being). The chocolate-based Raspberry Decadence looked interesting, but then I heard someone order Swiss Chocolate Orange. One of the gals behind the counter replied that it was her favorite flavor, too. And if that’s not a good endorsement, I don’t know what is! When I reached the front of the line, the lady made my day by agreeing to split my “Single” cup into three flavors, so I could try all three.

The verdict? First of all, Husky Deli doesn’t skimp on its serving sizes. And I seriously respect “mom & pop” establishments that don’t charge an arm-and-a-leg for their goods. The bad news: the ice cream was a bit too soft in consistency for me. But I’ll blame those ten-year-old girls for this transgression – not Husky Deli – as I’m sure the freezer cases were open for a while to fill all those orders. Consistency aside, I was impressed with the flavor intensity of Husky Deli’s ice cream. These family-friendly establishments often play it “safe,” serving bland flavors that don’t offend picky palates. And while Husky Deli’s flavors will never sucker-punch your taste buds, the ones I tried did live up to their names. My favorite (by far) was Swiss Chocolate Orange. It immediately made me think of those dark chocolate oranges my dad sometimes gets at Christmas time. The chocolate flavor was deep and paired well with the slightly-acidic-but-sweet orange essence. Coming in second place for me was the Raspberry Decadence – chocolate ice cream with thick swirls of raspberry jam. Again, I was reminded of my dad. He eats jam daily (usually multiple times a day), and raspberry is one of his favorite flavors. But only if it has seeds, which is the kind Husky Deli uses for this ice cream. The chocolate paired well with the tart raspberry swirls, and the seeds added another layer of texture. Sadly, I was less-than-impressed with the Husky Flake. The golden-vanilla base lacked the depth of Husky Deli’s chocolate ice creams, and the chocolate flakes added very little flavor themselves. While there was a copious amount of flakes, they were so teeny-tiny that the chocolate flavor was lost. I can see why the kiddos would like Husky Flake – but it was far from memorable. But the Swiss Chocolate Orange alone is reason enough to come back to Husky Deli again and again.

The best stuff was hidden underneath!

The Stats:
Husky Deli
4721 California Ave SW
Seattle, WA 98116
(206) 937-2810
http://www.huskydeli.com