Returning to the nostalgic scene of the '50s means going back to an old-fashioned craving--the immortal ice cream sundae. The most common vision is that of a colossal hot fudge sundae, still the running favorite in ice cream parlors and now a popular ending to diner menus all over town. The bountiful topping of gooey chocolate sauce, whooshed with whipped cream and dotted with chopped nuts leads the lineup, but delicious new guises are popping up.
The latest scoop in sundaes is anything goes--the sky's the limit--according to the International Ice Cream Assn., which has pronounced this Sunday as National Ice Cream Day.
On this day, the association estimates that more than 4 million gallons of ice cream will be consumed. A record of about 905 million gallons, just over 15 quarts per capita annual consumption, was reached in 1986, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Toppings for sundaes are wild, running anywhere from healthier granola and fresh fruit to chow mein crunchies and sinful truffles. Ice creams have become more sophisticated as manufacturers compete closely, producing new exotic flavors and richer textures.
"I want that cholesterol," says David Andrews, lead salesman and cooking demonstrator at Williams-Sonoma in Beverly Hills. "The richer the ice cream, the better the consistency." Andrews prefers to make ice cream at home rather than going out. "My ice cream tends to be so intense that adding a fudge sauce is just like gilding a lily. I'd rather top it with crushed fresh fruit," he said.
With all the public attention on dieting, it may seem ironic that the ice cream business continues to flourish. Now in her sixth year, business has never been as good for Robin Rose, a Los Angeles premium ice cream entrepreneur who currently owns eight shops in California and one newly added branch in Japan. "I see the most beautiful people eating the most sundaes," Rose said. "What they do is burn it off by bicycling down the beach."
"We don't go for big sundaes," Rose explained, while serving a taste of raspberry truffle ice cream, which she considers a yuppie favorite. "The market has changed from lots of scoops with gooey stuff to smaller servings but with fabulous quality ice cream."
Another exquisite sundae discovery at her busy shop at the Rodeo Collection in Beverly Hills was the combination of light sorbets such as strawberry or raspberry liqueur ice with a luscious smooth fudge topping. "The general move is towards light sundaes using fruit sorbets or creamy ice cream with fresh fruit topping," she said.
Dieters can share the experience of families that crowd Ed Debevic's Short Orders Deluxe in Beverly Hills, not just for the fun of the '50s and its rock and roll table jukebox machine music but to lose guilt in eating the world's smallest ice cream sundae. "We serve about 500 of these a day," said Dave Mazzorama, "and at a cheap 35 cents a cup, it's a break-even proposition."
Other frozen delights served at the diner are a brownie sundae, apple cobbler and pecan pie a la mode and, of course, for the more indulgent there's the large hot fudge sundae oozing with cream and fudge.
If you're a fresh fruit lover and have ever had old-time sundae favorites like "The Slow Boat to China," which is a concoction of pineapple sorbet, vanilla ice cream, oranges and candied ginger, or "The Berry Thing," a layering of all sorts of berries with ice cream, you may want to indulge in Richard Irving's colorful fruit sundae creation. A native Californian, the young owner of the sentimental Ivy at the Shore in Santa Monica believes in serving "real plain healthy food" and everything made from scratch.
"The banana split sundae is a fun item for us," Irving said. "It's made with all kinds of berries and fresh fruits, which cost more for us than what it sells for, which is $6. We don't make money out of the ice cream, which is made of real rich cream and expensive Tahitian vanilla bean."
The Ivy's offering consists of scoops of Tahitian vanilla and crunchy praline ice creams placed over banana slices. They're served in a pretty leaf-shaped plate that comes in either rose pink or green, and surrounded with heaps of blackberries, raspberries, pineapple, blueberries and strawberries. The butterscotch and fudge sauce toppings as well as the freshly roasted almonds and whipped cream are generous, individually served in white ramekins.
If you want to get away from the traditional sundae look, Bistango's in Beverly Hills offers "Coupe Bistango." It's loaded with scoops of vanilla, caramel and coffee ice cream with preserved oranges, prunes and raisins, laced with whipped cream and a generous splash of Cointreau. Another unusual but refreshing treat is its "Coupe Hollywood," which features lime, cassis, pear and green peppercorn sorbets.