It’s a sweltering Friday evening in Oakland as I sit on my porch. I’m craving something sweet, creamy and icy. I pull up Google and dig into my recent searches — yes, this is a weekly occurrence — for “ice cream near me.” The options abound.
I could pay $8 for a fancy, not-so-fantastic double chocolate milkshake, smothered in gooey fudge and gobs of whipped cream. It would make a pretty Instagram picture and probably give me the ultimate cavity. I could also go to a place that’s cheaper in price and a little less glamorous for homemade mint with rich chocolate chunks on a fresh, crispy waffle cone. I pick the latter.
These decisions are getting harder every day, as food that weighs wow-factor and visual appeal over flavor grows in popularity. Ice cream, an all-American favorite treat, unfortunately falls victim to this trend.
Up until around 1929, there were only three standard flavors of ice cream — chocolate, vanilla and strawberry. The fourth widely available flavor was rocky road — a chocolate base with marshmallows and peanuts throughout. Now, there are thousands of flavors and a stunning array of variations in how the delicious dairy concoction is prepared — milkshakes, floats, sundaes and banana splits are among the most popular.
Of course, these treats are nowhere near as decadent as what some call “viral foods,” which gain their popularity through social media. Sites like INSIDER food have taken over Facebook feeds with their short videos featuring overly indulgent restaurant dishes. Ice cream is a popular featured dish, especially during the summertime.
One video features a restaurant in Chicago that serves emerald green matcha milkshakes topped with flavored cream and sugar-covered whole donuts. Another restaurant in Miami serves ice cream sundaes the size of an infant — they’re topped with fudge, caramel, waffle cones, sprinkles, candy and lit sparklers.
There are locations in Pittsburgh that do the same to their food, following the trends popular on Instagram, perhaps in the hopes of making it big in one of these videos that garner nearly half a million views each.
This is not to say that trying new dishes — especially ice cream — is a bad thing. NatuRoll, a new ice cream joint in Lawrenceville, opened its doors in September of 2016 and has since gained quite the popularity for its unique treat — Thai rolled ice cream. Millie’s in Shadyside puts a unique twist on classic American favorites. Though their treats are simple, they often experiment, with flavors like cherry pie, peach balsamic and black pepper sorbet and Vietnamese coffee. These flavors are different than those at your run-of-the-mill ice cream shop, but aren’t created for the purpose of going viral.
The best of all, though, is a little place on Atwood with a glowing neon sign. So traditional they only accept cash, Dave and Andy’s has been in operation since 1983, serving Pitt students and yinzers alike. Their ice cream is all made in-house, along with their waffle cones that include their signature — an M&M at the bottom to prevent melting dairy drippage. Their no-frills approach allows the small parlor room to take care of what matters: taste.
On any given weekend night during the summertime, these shops experience lines out the door and down the block, with good reason. Sure, they don’t have fireworks jutting from their scoops or candy-coated churro cones, but it’s because they don’t need to. The ice cream speaks for itself — which is all I, personally, can ask for.
Trends come and go frequently, including ones in food. This summer, do the right thing. Skip the Instagram trend and save yourself the insanity of a sugar rush. Some things never go out of style, and a tasty cone on a hot summer day is one of them.