This fabulous dessert shop began its life as an ice cream truck, which is no longer in operation. Bowing to popular demand, and only after securing a preferred location on 7th Street, it expanded into a full-fledged shop. Back in 2011, on the first of many visits to The Big Gay Ice Cream Shop, I struck up a conversation with a very enthusiastic patron. I learned that he was a New York firefighter and he told me, “I travel great distances for great food, and this is one of those places.”
Many subsequent visits later, during the summer of 2016, Jessica, an enthusiastic employee, whose vivid pink and purple hair matched the beautiful colors of some of the flavors, proudly informed me that she had sampled every ice cream. This was certainly an impressive feat, considering new flavors are added on a weekly basis - on this particular week it was Blueberry Cobbler. Among the favorites that the Manhattan Sideways team has devoured over the years are the Salty Pimp, a cone of vanilla ice cream, dulce de leche, and sea salt dipped in chocolate, and the Rue McClarahan, bourbon ice cream sandwiched between praline pecan cookies. Jessica confirmed that the Rocky Roadhouse, a chocolate cone with marshmallow fixings, is another popular choice, as are classics like chocolate and vanilla.
The shop encourages customers to be creative and get exactly what they want, allowing them to mix and match unique toppings with several flavors of soft-serve. I strongly recommend combining vanilla with Makers Mark Bourbon Butterscotch and Awesomesauce, a signature spicy chocolate sauce. For those who do not like cream, the splendid La Newyorkina ice pops do the trick.
The ice cream at Alphabet Scoop is refreshing in more ways than one: Managed by Robbie Vedral, Alphabet Scoop is an extension of Father’s Heart Ministry, which has been focused on empowering the neighborhood youth in the Lower East Side since 2005. Robbie, for his part, has always believed that if you take care of your employees, your employees will take care of you—in this case, those employees just so happen to be high schoolers from the East Village. Under the wishes of his parents, who are still pastors of the church next door, Robbie has taken it upon himself to hold Alphabet Scoop to an uncompromising standard, always ensuring that things are done right. From a background of 25 years in retail, Robbie has found that he can learn from anyone’s mistakes - including his own. He has, in this vein, adjusted the shop’s schedule to keep it open all year; previously it was just a summer stop, but Robbie found that being a seasonal location made it more difficult for customers to anticipate when Alphabet Scoop would be in business. So, now, rather than seasonal hours, Alphabet Scoop boasts seasonal flavors. Pistachio flavor, a summer 2019 special, comes highly recommended by the Manhattan Sideways team. Alphabet Scoop is also constantly experimenting with new flavors suggested to them by customers, so if you’ve been saving up that million-dollar ice cream flavor idea, Alphabet Scoop might just be the place to make it a reality. The “sweet n’ salty” flavor is proof of the potential here, as it was suggested by one of the shop’s younger customers. While the spritely New Yorkers that work in the shop are paid for their work, Alphabet Scoop is also a non-profit. The mission, transparently, is as stated on the walls: “Justice & Sprinkles for all. ” The kids, typically between the ages of 14 and 16, learn all aspects of the business, from hands on skills such as making ice cream to managerial skills like taking inventory. The goal of Alphabet Scoop is to encourage maximum involvement from its employees, so they are invited to help make decisions about the business. Robbie told us a story of a young woman, for example, who has worked in the shop for close to two years, and who was initially quite difficult to work with - but with patience and persistence from Robbie and other employees, the young woman grew to better understand the mission of Alphabet Scoop, and now even has keys to the shop. Robbie’s work at Alphabet Scoop shows the importance of creating strong foundations for young people, as well as how truly influential small businesses can be in their communities. Stop by the shop - any time of year - to help Robbie make his impact.
Van Leeuwen began as just a couple of ice cream trucks back in 2008. A few years later, they opened their first brick-and-mortar store on 7th Street and have since gone on to add other permanent shops in Manhattan and Brooklyn. Owners Ben, Pete, and Laura and their team are extremely concerned with the quality of their product and whence they source ingredients. The vanilla flavor comes from organic bourbon and Tahitian vanilla orchids, and the chocolate comes from a family-run French company with free trade practices, Michele Cluizel Chocolate. Van Leeuwen also offers sophisticated flavors like sweet sticky black rice, earl grey tea, Ceylon cinnamon, and salted caramel with buffalo trace bourbon. When I visited in the summer of 2016, the two trending Van Leeuwen flavors were honeycomb and ginger, but, as Van Leeuwen is always adding new specialty flavors, I am sure that the favorites change quite often. Among the recently added at the time were chocolate banana cream pie and Mexican chocolate birthday cake. Though veganism seems to be a bit of trend, especially with the Vegolution, it has limitations in the ice cream community - but not at Van Leeuwen. Their vegan options are made with only “coconut and cashew milk, raw cocoa butter, extra virgin olive oil, and organic sugar cane. ” For many years, the shop has offered vegan scoops in flavors ranging from chocolate chip cookie dough to matcha green tea. “People appreciate that we have it, ” explained an employee, “and they are just as popular as the others. ”
"The Two Faces of Italian Food" is the tagline at this restaurant and wine bar. The perfect blend they are referring to is tradition and innovation. The menu boasts homemade and traditional options - the wine list is not limited to Italian varieties, though the beer is. We stopped in briefly and relaxed with a glass of wine in their quiet back garden and spoke with one of the restaurant's partners as waiters set up for that evening's meal. When we asked him to describe the food that Giano served in a short sentence he told us humbly: "Italian food. No big deal. " Can't wait to try it!
Most business owners know how difficult it is to bounce back after being robbed. Makoto Wantanabe has done it twice and, ironically, has a thief to thank for the very birth of Tokio 7. Makoto was globetrotting in the early 1990s when he arrived in Southern California on what was supposed to be the penultimate stop on his tour. He befriended a homeless man and let him stay in his hotel room for the night, but Makoto awoke to find everything except for his passport was stolen. Stranded with no money and far from his home in the Japanese countryside, Makoto called one of his only contacts in the U. S., who worked at a Japanese restaurant in Manhattan. He scrounged up enough money for a bus ticket and was off. While in New York, Makoto felt that men’s clothing suffered from a lack of style. Having always had a knack for fashion, he knew he could change that but lacked the funds to open a store with brand new clothing. So, after several years of saving his wages as a waiter, he founded one of the first consignment shops in New York City. Tokio 7 now carries men’s and women’s clothes, with the overarching theme being, as Makoto says, that they are simply “cool. ” The clothes are mostly from Japanese designers and name brands with unique twists. In the store, clothing that has been donated with a lot of wear is labeled “well loved. ”Despite its importance in the community, the shop fell on tough times during the COVID-19 pandemic. To make matters worse, Tokio 7 was looted in the summer of 2020 and had 300 items stolen. When Makoto contemplated closing his doors permanently, longtime customers begged him to reconsider. Resilient as ever, he set up a small photography area in the back of the shop and sold a portion of his clothes online to compensate for the decline of in-person purchases. Reflecting on his journey, Makoto marveled at the whims of fate. Had he not been robbed all of those decades ago in California, he had planned to start a life in the Amazon rainforest
This small, old-world neighborhood barbershop is loaded with personality. Everything about Barbiere is unique: the whimsical wrought-iron gate out front, the retro hair and shaving products along the walls, and the high-quality, old-fashioned service. When we poked our heads in to chat with the barbers and their clients—all seated in vintage leather chairs—they were proud to tell us that James Franco is among the celebrities that drop by for a haircut or a classic shave.