Every summer, San Francisco makes a paltry attempt at warm weather, but that hardly seems to matter to ice cream lovers – summer’s here and we’re willing to stand in lines often buffeted by wind and nearly enshrouded in fog.
At the latest tally, the Mission boasts a dozen ice cream shops, all hawking either gorgeously simple classics, unconventional flavors, or unique manufacturing methods. All begging to be sampled.
Despite the city re-opening and things returning to a new normal, I wasn’t sure how ice cream shops had fared amidst the pandemic. Where could I get the closest scoop?
Mitchell’s Ice Cream on San Jose Avenue seemed like an obvious first choice. One, because it’s one of the few shops in the neighborhood offering scoops during the pandemic and not just pints for pickup. And two, because Mitchell’s has been a San Francisco staple for more than half a century, lauded for introducing mango ice cream to the Bay Area (still one of their most popular flavors). The shop is a classic, and reliably delicious.
Even in the middle of the afternoon on a Thursday, there was a line of customers snaking around the sidewalk in front of the corner shop. Patrons respectfully distanced from each other using the red tape on the ground while mulling their orders.
The woman ahead of me ordered two pints of Oreo cookie and went happily on her way.
Then came my turn. And I saw the glaring sign taped on the clear, plastic divider separating me from my ice cream.
“Sorry – No Samples!”
Heartbroken, I panicked. I’d never tried to place an ice cream order without at least sampling three different options.
Fruity? Chocolate? Something edgy, like avocado?
I had no idea what I wanted.
Painfully aware of holding up the respectfully distanced line behind me, I tried a workaround. I asked the shop’s employee to come to my aid.
What flavors were most popular right now? Were people gravitating more towards comforting or exotic options? What worked better as a scoop versus a pint?
Could he describe the flavor notes of the young coconut?
After listening to details about the mocha chocolate, the mango, the grasshopper pie, the horchata, I was getting nowhere.
As he explained that people were really into their tropical flavors right now like lucuma, a South American fruit, I blurted out my choice: ube.
He good-naturedly passed my scoop to me under the plastic divider, a small white cup swathed in brown paper napkins, the spoon inserted jauntily into my ice cream.
Ube is a purple yam hailing from the Philippines, and I’ve had it many times in ice cream. I could see little chunks of ube mixed into the light lavender-toned ice cream. This would be good.
I walked away from Mitchell’s relieved and excited. I carved a section from the scoop, held it aloft, and placed my spoon in my mouth.
My excitement quickly turned to apprehension. Was it just me, or was the flavor too mild? Was the note of vanilla overpowering the gentle yam? Were the ube chunks too frozen, almost gritty?
Or, with COVID-19 robbing me of my usual sampling process, was I just having second thoughts? Could I no longer trust my judgment?
Maybe trying one more shop will provide the answer.