by Frederick Egan Castleberry
My brain is starting to freeze. But I don't care. I press my tongue up against the roof of my mouth and keep going. With the precision of a master surgeon, I carve out the strawberry careful not to touch the chocolate or vanilla. The rectangle carton of Neapolitan is all mine for at least the next 17 minutes—my own private Heaven. The blacks of my eyes shoot around the kitchen between bites. Mom hates this—me siphoning the strawberry third before anyone else has a shot at it. Such is life with two younger siblings—the Neapolitan catered to everyone…and yet no one. The year is 1993.
The obsession with strawberry ice cream that takes me at the age of 12 eventually leads me here, Van Leeuwen’s shop in the East Village. It’s my go-to spot in New York for ice cream. What began in a Greenpoint Brooklyn kitchen in 2008 is now scooped out of six ’88 Chevy Step Vans and three storefronts in Manhattan and Brooklyn. Van Leeuwen’s commitment to celebrating all-natural ingredients is rapidly cementing their frozen concoction as the ice cream in the city.
While strawberry is a classic ice cream flavor, it’s all too often ruined by artificial colorings and “natural flavorings” that come from sources other than strawberries. These are unpleasant but necessary ingredients when insufficient quantities of strawberries or bland-tasting strawberries are used. Yeah, that strawberry I fell in love with back in ’93, tainted love. It turns out it was a scientifically engineered bastardization of what God intended. And God knows ice cream, I assure you.
Cutting corners is stomached by most, but for ice cream artisans and self-proclaimed foodies Laura O’Neill and the Brothers Van Leeuwen (Ben and Pete), it’s cringe-inducing. They do it right—only (fresh hormone and antibiotic free) milk and cream, cane sugar, egg yolks and generous amounts of sun-sweetened strawberries. It is the freshest strawberry ice cream that has ever hit my lips…and it delivers one hell of a brain freeze.
Van Leeuwen Artisan Ice Cream
48 1/2 East 7th Street
New York, NY 10003