The Ice Cream Files: Ali Usta Ice Cream + A Stroll through Kadıköy

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I made a very important discovery last week.  After much searching and frustration, I finally stumbled upon an ice cream joint in Turkey that stands out among the rest.  Don’t get me wrong:  there is nothing wrong with Turkish ice cream.  Honestly, it’s really good.  The issue is that it’s all the same.  You can eat at any of the hundreds (maybe thousands) of ice cream stands in Turkey and it would be pretty damn hard to tell them apart.  In fact, I’m pretty sure most of them use the same two or three ice cream suppliers.  It was kind of hard for me to accept since I’m such a sucker for unique, hole-in-the-wall ice cream places.

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SO HAPPY.

Enter Ali Usta.  We were spending the day out and about with our friend and co-worker who lives in the area and he told us that it was one of the oldest ice cream shops in Istanbul and how he always had fond memories of grabbing ice cream cones after school with his friends when he was younger.  When we walked by, I didn’t hesitate to run over and try it for myself.

Friends, this is not your average Turkish ice cream cone.  The flavor is different.  The texture is different.  It’s obvious that they make it themselves. Also, CHOPPED PEANUTS and DIPPED CONES!    I got almond and coffee and was pleasantly surprised that the coffee ice cream actually tasted like Turkish coffee.   I totally get the temptation to stop by the tourist stands where they do tricks with the cones, but if you want a REAL Turkish ice cream experience, this is the place.

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Our friend introduced us to a lot of hidden gems that day, including this lovely park by the sea, from which you can see Sultanahmet, Galata, and the Prince’s Islands.  We chatted as the sun set and watched the dolphins jumping across the horizon.  It was ridiculously wonderful.  There will be a lot more Ali Usta sunsets to come, that’s for sure.

The Ice Cream Files: Stikki Nikki

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So, it’s been almost a year since I’ve done one of these posts.  I’m pretty ashamed of that fact.  Don’t worry, though; it’s not because I haven’t been eating ice cream all year.  On the contrary, I’ve eaten quite a bit of ice cream this year…it’s just that I haven’t stumbled upon many ice cream shops that were truly special enough to be worth writing about.  There  isn’t much of a craft ice cream culture in Turkey, which was not what I had expected before moving here.  The ice cream is all good (I mean, how could it be bad?  I’ts ice cream…), but pretty much every ice cream shop is exactly the same and has exactly the same flavors and same textures (at least from what I’ve seen so far), so my ice cream blogging has been on quite a long hiatus.

And then came Stockholm.  On our way to Drop Coffee, we found this little gem of a shop that was boasting all organic homemade ice cream, so there was no way I was just going to walk by without getting some.  It turned out to be some of the best ice cream I’ve had in a long time!  Here’s the breakdown of my experience:

Taste/Quality:  5/5

You can tell that this ice cream is made with a lot of love.  The organic flavors really, really came through.  It was so fresh and so perfect.  I’m still dreaming about the Lemon Basil…

Variety:  4/5

I’m really hesitant to rate this one because I was only there for one day and I’m pretty sure they rotate flavors.  There weren’t a ton of choices compared to other ice cream shops, but I am generally in favor of quality over quantity, which was definitely the case here.  They only had a few flavors available, but they were all interesting (like Lemon Basil and Coffee Cardamom) and delicious and they always seem to include vegan options, which is a huge plus.

Atmosphere: 3/5

It was a cute shop, but it was really tiny and much more of a to-go place than a sit-down area.

Price: 5/5

5 Euros for 2 enormous scoops of delicious ice cream?  Yes, please!

Wow Factor: 5/5

The vegan Peanut Butter and Lemon Basil ice cream blew my mind!  I never imagined that lemon and basil could go together well as an ice cream flavor, but I thought it was pretty incredible.

Overall Score:  4.4

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Look how happy I am!

Make sure to stop by if you ever visit Stockholm!  And definitely don’t skip the coffee afterward either…I’m pretty sure ice cream and coffee are my favorite combo ever.

The Ice Cream Files: Cone

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Although our time there was pretty limited, there was no way we could leave Chicago without trying out a new ice cream place.

We were hot, sweaty, and exhausted after our first day walking around the city and we were getting pretty hungry.  We didn’t want to go anywhere that was too far out of the way, but we also wanted to make sure we went somewhere good.  We scrolled through the Zomato app to see what was close and decided on Cone based on its reviews and menu options.

The blast of AC, smell of ice cream, and cheerful decor were welcome sights as we finally reached our destination after a long afternoon.  Here is my breakdown of our visit to Cone:

Irish Hangover and Lavendar Honey...SO good!

Irish Hangover and Lavendar Honey…SO good!

Taste/Quality:  5/5

This ice cream had the perfect texture: not too hard, not too soft.  It was creamy and delicious and all of the flavors that I tasted were wonderful!  I will be dreaming of the Lavender Honey for weeks to come.

Variety:  5/5

Cone had some really interesting flavors.  Keeping with the Irish theme of the shop, they had choices like Bailey’s Irish Creme, Guinness, and Irish Hangover (cinnamon swirl ice cream with bacon bits and cinnamon toast crunch pieces), in addition to some seasonal options like Sweet Summer Corn.

Atmosphere: 3.5/5

The decor was super cute and the staff was very friendly!  I loved the decor and the kitschy Irish theme.   The only complaint I have is regarding the lack of comfortable seating.  They had one large, hard, bench-type thing in the corner and that was it…and we had to wait several minutes for some space on it.  After walking nearly 10 miles, I was really looking for a place to sit and enjoy my ice cream and rest before walking the rest of the way back to the hostel.

Price: 3/5

This one is probably hard for me to judge accurately since I am used to Kansas prices.  However, I felt that $11 for a double scoop of ice cream in a cup and a milkshake was a little steep.  Don’t get me wrong; it was delicious…and it is Chicago…but I’m accustomed to more reasonable prices.

Wow Factor: 4/5

This place was a breath of fresh air in an otherwise rather dull and industrial neighborhood.  There was such a happy, dreamy vibe to the place that made it very charming and the friendly and helpful staff and delicious ice cream brought it all together.  It didn’t hurt that they let you sample all of their flavors for free and had complimentary water available.

Overall Score:  4.1

If you like ice cream, Irish liquor, or both, then I’d definitely recommend this place if you’re in the area!

The Ice Cream Files: Paciugo

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When Dakota and I went to Kansas City for a mini anniversary celebration, we had some time to kill after our massages. We wanted to go to the museum, but since it was way on the other side of the city and traffic was horrible, we decided to just go to the mall.  Lame, I know.

Halfway through perusing the bottom floor, we were getting a little hungry, and since I can’t resist ice cream for long, we decided to stop for some gelato at this little stand called Paciugo.

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Ginger Almond/Sea Salted Caramel/Tiramisu + Pistachio/Wedding Cake/Coffee Chocolate Chip (Pistachio was the best!)

It was the perfect little break, even though it was in a very random spot.

Here are my thoughts on Paciugo:

Taste/Quality: 3/5

To explain this rating, let me just say that not all of the flavors are created equal.  Some of the flavors are really on point – like the pistachio.  Others left something to be desired and didn’t really taste like the flavor description.  Overall, it was still pretty good.

Variety: 5/5

They had plenty of interesting flavors to choose from:  Tiramisu, Ginger Almond, Peanut M&M…also, they let you sample flavors, which was a huge bonus.

Atmosphere: 2/5

The stand itself and the cafe style tables around it are pretty cute…but you can’t overlook the fact that it’s in the middle of the mall by all the stores and obnoxious pop music.  It’s definitely not somewhere I’d go if I wasn’t already at the mall.

Price: 2/5

It was $4.50 for a small cup that included three flavors.  I felt that it was a little overpriced given the portion.

Wow Factor: 3/5

The little stand looks very appealing.  All of the ice creams look so pretty in the cases.  Also, it’s pretty cool that you get to have three different flavors.

Overall Score: 3/5

Another fun little jaunt eating ice cream!  Definitely something to check out if you happen to be doing any shopping in KC.

Introducing “The Ice Cream Files” + Eye Scream Labs

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Espresso and Key Lime Pie flavored ice creams at Eye Scream Labs.

I have had this idea brewing for awhile and I’m pleased to announce that the day has finally come for me to introduce a new little series on here that I’ve decided to call “The Ice Cream Files.”

My husband and I are pretty much addicted to ice cream.  Way more so than I would ever care to admit.  One of our top priorities when traveling, in addition to good places for actual food, is to find good ice cream.  I have eaten ice cream in France, Spain, Paraguay, Iceland, and pretty much everywhere I have been in the States.  The problem is that I eat it so much that it can be so easy for me to forget which ice cream I ate where and that’s just sad…so I’ve decided to blog about it!

As I make my way around the world in the coming years, I am going to do my best to try as much delicious ice cream as possible and review it according to a scale of my own creation.  Each ice cream establishment will be judged in five categories: Taste/Quality, Variety, Atmosphere, Price, and Wow Factor.  Each category will be given a rating out of five stars.

For my first review, I decided to go with an awesome place nearby in a tiny town called Galena, KS off of Route 66.  The place is called Eye Scream Labs and I fell in love with it when they opened last year. It is a family-run business that features all-natural ice cream frozen by liquid nitrogen.  Not only do they have super awesome flavors (Bourbon Bread Pudding!), they also have a super awesome store.  It is designed to look like a steampunk lab and the “lab rats” do live demonstrations of the ice cream being made, which looks super cool.

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Eye Scream Labs (Don’t you love their eyeball dude?)

Here are my ratings based on my most recent visit:

Taste/Quality:  4.5/5

The ice cream is delicious, creamy, and full of all sorts of yummy flavor.  You can definitely tell it’s homemade.  This time, I went with the Key Lime Pie.  It was really rich, but delicious, with big chunks of graham cracker crust!

Variety: 5/5

Eye Scream Labs has lots of flavors…just off the top of my head, I recall seeing Blueberry Cheesecake, Honey Cashew, French Toast, and Twinkie, among many others.  They are always willing to let you sample anything you want to try!  They also have plenty of toppings you can add, though I tend to prefer my ice cream naked.

Atmosphere: 5/5

The inside of the place is really, really cool.  They have all kinds of steampunk details, the employees wear lab coats, and they are always doing cool demonstrations that look like mad science experiments!

Price: 5/5

The smallest serving, the Eye Whisper, is only $3 and was plenty to fill me up!!  Great value for the price.

Wow Factor: 5/5

I feel like this rating is pretty self-explanatory based on everything I’ve already said.  Seriously, it’s a must-see.  If you’re ever in the area, check it out!!

Overall Score: 4.9

I’m really hoping those reading will enjoy this blog series!  I know I will!  If nothing else, I hope it inspires people to go have ice cream adventures of their own!  Also, I am always VERY open to recommendations!  I love me some ice cream.