When the going gets hot, the hot make ice cream treats out of locally roasted, artisanal coffee and coffee extracts, and New York City's comfort food hub Bubby's is no exception. The venerated restaurant, whose locations in Tribeca and at the foot of the High Line are famous for pies, pork, and the like, has been celebrated for their quality coffee program for several years now. This spring, Bubby's High Line location opened a soda fountain, blending the restaurant's fine coffees with ice cream and even shave ice to put a happier, more caffeinated edge on New York's most arduous season.
Bubby's uses a rotating cast of local and national roasters–this month, Café Grumpy, Ritual Roasters, Stumptown, Toby's Estate and Plowshares line the shelves–to fill out a thoughtful coffee program headed up by barista James Carlson. In conjunction with chef/owner Ron Silver, Carlson and the Bubby's team have been focused on taking frozen treats made with coffee one step beyond, by ensuring the coffee components of their desserts are of the highest quality. From the espresso milkshake, made with housemade coffee ice cream, to the coffee syrups the kitchen mixes behind the scenes, ingredients are key.
“James really has relationships with the roasters,” says Silver of his head barista's–and restaurant's–close connection to the coffee world. “He knows what kind of profile I want–I don't want a lot of these really acidy coffees.” Silver went on: “We tend to go for a more earthier, chocolatey coffee. It's a process to get to know it, because it's a new sort of profile–as opposed to the commercial coffee five years ago.”
The Bubby's Mocha Sundae, pictured at top, is a towering, crumb-topped example of how they've honed in on exactly the profiles they're looking for. Its heaping helping of espresso ice cream, chocolate ice cream, and chocolate chip cookie crumb-cubes are anointed by a coffee syrup the staff makes with one of Bubby's rotating featured espressos.
“Any coffee they have that's going in the espresso machine makes good syrup,” said Silver, leaving little room for doubt.
“We're brewing strong–like 4 lbs of coffee to a gallon of water”.
Silver's attention to detail and quality standards–combined with perfecting the most delicious possible coffee syrup–led naturally to an interest in Japanese shave-ice.
“One of the things along with the soda fountain was we had to come up with new syrups,” he explained. “In doing that we found that these same syrups we're making sodas and sundaes with go really well with shave ice, so we started dabbling with it. Now, I'm really happy with the syrups but I'm on a steep learning curve about how to shave the ice,” said Silver, who just so happened to be mere hours away from departing for Japan on a whirlwind tour of the country's most esteemed shave ice joints.
“I'm going to Japan because there's dozens and dozens of shave ice places in Japan, a lot of them are cutting edge,” said the restaurateur.
Currently, Bubby's operates a shave-ice, or snowball, cart outside their High Line restaurant, utilizing a manual flywheel-based ice-shaver after exhausting four prior test models.
“I think we finally have the sort of best machine,” said Silver of his frosty research efforts. “We have a manual one and two of the electric ones coming this week. And you do need a sort of special freezer,” he added, noting that the current Bubby's freezer is actually too cold. This is a First World New York City problem in the summertime if we've ever heard one!
The shave ice is worth the fuss, however: a flurry of ice crystals–soon to become, once he's perfected the Japanese technique, cleanly sculpted waves–doused in condensed milk and espresso syrup, served in a Chinese takeout box. It's refreshing and sweet, and so much more fun to eat than a granita. We'll be watching these coffee-ice evolutions closely in the coming hot months (you know, for science).
Liz Clayton is the Associate Editor at Sprudge.com, based in New York City. Read more Liz Clayton on Sprudge.