Amid L.A.’s civil war between trendy frozen yogurt chains, it’s easy to forget the Other White Dessert that predated all of this by decades: soft serve ice cream. I was reminded of the old stuff recently, when, ironically, returning from the dentist, I saw one of the L.A. area’s only Carvel locations, on Santa Monica Boulevard in West L.A.
For those of us who grew up in the New York area, seeing a Carvel on the other side of the country is an instant shot of comfort. Many of us have fond memories of the low-budget commercials by gravelly-voiced founder Tom Carvel, and of trips to the shiny steel and glass box Carvel store with the giant ice cream cone on top. We were served a variety of novelty products at Carvel, from swirly soft ice cream, to Flying Saucers (precursor of the Chipwich), to cakes in the shape of wacky characters such as Fudgie the Whale and my favorite, Cookie Puss.
With these memories in mind, novocaine-numbed mouth or not, I was determined to get my hands on some Carvel that day. I navigated the rather tricky split road entrance east of Sepulveda and made my way inside. This Carvel was more modern and sterile-looking than I had remembered. But there was no mistaking those giant gloop-producing machines behind the counter. The store even had some Carvel historic information on the wall.
I ordered the standard form of currency in the ice cream world: a medium shake. Then I looked up at the price board. $ 4.95! My memories are jarred by Vincent Vega and the Five Dollar Shake. But in contrast to Mia Wallace’s “pretty fuckin’ good milk shake,” mine was only okay. I think the price was causing more pain than the novocaine was taking away.
Afterward, I decided that, if the goal is to eat soft ice cream with history at a reasonable price in the L.A. area, then I must complete my cross-country journey by leaving Carvel for a new lover. Local long-time soft ice cream chain Foster’s Freeze sells medium shakes for $ 3.50. They’re pretty fuckin’ good. And the nostalgia is included for free.