The made-to-order liquid nitrogen ice cream shop has crossed the bridge to Rockridge, and we scoped it out on the eve of their opening day.
The Smitten story begins with founder Robyn Sue Fisher putting a new kind of high-tech ice cream churner on a radio flyer wagon, equipped with some bungee chords and a homemade battery pack. After earning a following one scoop at a time on the streets of San Francisco, Fisher set up shop in a shipping container in the Hayes Valley Proxy. Last year they opened a second location in Los Altos, and the company's next chapter -- a scaled up, flagship location -- begins in Oakland. Here's what we're most excited about:
1. Six brand new machines, which means six flavors.
That's two more than the San Francisco location, but who's counting points for Oakland? (Besides everyone.) Sure, that's not a lot compared to most ice cream shops, but Smitten's trademark is their "Brrr" machine: a sleek, stainless steel ice cream churner that freezes each scoop of ice cream to order using liquid nitrogen. The result? By freezing at lower temperatures the machines create smaller ice crystals, and therefore creamier ice cream.
Plus, doing it on the spot leaves out the need for preservatives or stabilizers. Which means fresh mint chip actually tastes just like freshly picked spearmint. Equally real flavors come out of the salted caramel, TCHO chocolate, brown sugar with cinnamon cookies, and classic vanilla. For a couple quarters you can add toppings like pistachio brittle and cinnamon shortbread, or sauces like the spicy caramel and the malt syrup. Just think of all the combinations.
2. An indoor location.
It might seem like a cute idea to walk with a few scoops of ice cream and a waffle cone in your hand, but then it's on your shirt, your hands, your face ... and suddenly you have smeared-lipstick-ice-cream face and sticky hands, making your date just a little more awkward. While the Hayes Valley container and patio is pretty adorable, the Oakland space is weatherproof and roomy, even if a few long lines form (as we expect they will).
3. The rhubarb crisp ice cream.
Those of you that frequent the vegetable stands of your farmers market know that rhubarb means springtime. The tall, dark pink stalks are tart and need to be sweetened up for dessert making. Smitten does it with oatmeal cookie crumbles. The flavor is smooth, creamy, and subtly tart. Rhubarb crisp is the seasonal flavor of the month for April, strawberry white balsamic is on deck for May.
The Oakland location opens today (Tuesday) at noon, and "Smitteneer" (aka general manager in Smitten corporatespeak) Eliza Bennett said they've been turning away about fifty eager customers per day for the past week while setting up shop. Seeing how it takes about five minutes to make each scoop, we should all just get in line now.