REVIEW: The Social Breakfast with Nonna D & Poppy

When Ample Hills changed ownership and the heart and soul behind the company became The Social, one thing was for certain: Nonna D’s cookies weren’t going anywhere. Today’s pint is a reimagined version of a tried and true AH classic. “Breakfast with Nonna D & Poppy” is maple syrup and donut infused ice cream with pieces of Nonna D’s Oatmeal Lace Cookies.

This new spin on Brian and Jackie’s original Oatmeal Lace creation replaces the cinnamon base with a doughnut-infused one, and it very well may be an upgrade. I LOVE cinnamon, and Nonna D OG was a staple of Ample Hills with a robust and fantastic spicy cinnamon foundation; but the unique palate and subtle flavors on display in this base are astounding. Both flavors are slight but I get more doughnut than maple, which I didn’t expect at all. I actually taste the fried cake doughnut flavor and can envision the greasiness fusing into the cream. The maple is secondary but still there, rounding out the doughnut aura for a base that’s just as delightfully tasty as it is texturally smooth and decadent.

The oatmeal lace cookies are as good and plentiful as ever. Their perfect caramelized texture absolutely sings in this ice cream, bringing both a sticky chew and slight crunch to the creamy base. There’s a bit of oat-y toothsome-ness that feels right at home with their deep brown sugar flavor. They have always been an excellent mix-in and their amplified presence as the sole inclusion lets them shine as brightly as they should.

While there may not be an apparent connection between the maple doughnut and the oatmeal lace, they combine for a pretty unexpected and magical moment. When the right bite gets on my spoon the two fuse for a flavor-meets-texture experience that reminds me of the hard-fried outside of an old fashioned doughnut — a type of greasy crunch I’ve never experienced in frozen form. It may not have been the intention, but this pint captures the essence of a doughnut in a more convincing fashion than any ice cream I’ve ever scooped; a feat that is much harder than you might imagine — it’s wonderful.

Rating: 9.25/10

Found at: Goldbelly ($99 for 6 pints)

REVIEW: The Social A Velvet Affair

Love is in the air! To be fair whenever I’m scooping premium ice cream I’m pretty starry eyed, but this now automatic (and awesome) February flavor combo really strikes a love-nerve with my Valentine; so when this limited pint from The Social dropped I knew I had to get it. “A Velvet Affair” is silky white chocolate ice cream with generous pieces of cream cheese frosted red velvet cake.

White chocolate is under-utilized in ice cream bases and it’s a very welcome switch up. Not only is it welcome but it’s one of the strongest ones I’ve ever had. Granted, it’s pretty rare to come across, but this is DISTINCTLY white chocolate. It’s a hard flavor to succinctly describe but it’s sweet and creamy without the floral notes of vanilla or dairy-forward flourish of a sweet cream. It has none of the bitterness of milk or dark chocolate and none of the saltiness of more complex bases like last week’s popcorn. It’s devoid of so many flavors and yet it’s perfectly white chocolate with a notable smoothness and luscious mouthfeel — I love it.

The lone mix-in, pieces of red velvet cake, are abundant. The entire pint from top to bottom is packed with sexy chunks of vibrantly red moist red velvet love. They have a delightful sponge-y chew and buttery taste rounded out by ever-so-slight notes of cocoa. Some of the frosting clings to the cake as intended and some breaks off in churning rebellion. The frosting is slightly firm and sweet. There’s a density to frosting that stands out in ice cream and it is truly such a wonderful texturally contrasting mix-in. I really enjoy the extra pops of sweetness with a touch of grit every time they arrive on my spoon.

The only element that’s missing from this otherwise stellar pint is the cream cheese. The frosting is cream cheese based but I can’t taste any of it, even when isolated. As much as I love the texture and density of the frosting it lacks the tanginess that defines a proper slice of red velvet. Maybe the white chocolate base is too silky sweet to let it come through or maybe my tang-tolerance is too high. Either way this is a wonderful seasonal pint that you should absolutely add to your order while you can.

Rating: 8.5/10

Found at: Goldbelly ($99 for 6 pints)

REVIEW: The Social The Old Ballgame

Reunited and it feels so good! 

I, along with everyone in the craft ice cream scene, collectively wept when Jackie and Brian Cuscuna had to declare bankruptcy and sell their beloved Brooklyn-based company Ample Hills. Ample Hills was one of the first shops to ship their ice cream to my door and I immediately fell in love with their combination of dense rich custard and high quality house made mix-ins. Ample Hills lives on under new ownership — I’ve ordered, and it’s not the same. It’s not awful, but it’s far from the premium product I fell in love with five years ago. 

Thankfully for all of us serious scoopers, Jackie and Brian don’t have a single ounce of quit in their bodies. In the summer of 2021 they launched The Social Ice Cream Parlor, an experience they spoke about in depth on their excellent podcast As The Ice Cream Churns. Their story is absolutely wild — from inking a deal with Disney and making exclusive Star Wars and Marvel ice cream’s to expanding quicker than they could financially support to eventually being crushed by bankruptcy with a final finishing blow from the pandemic we have all endured the last two years. 

Stunning The Social artwork from their website

The Social strips everything back to the basics. Brian is making the ice cream and hand packing the pints while Jackie tackles the ins and outs of the business and social media. They have ample seating to encourage hanging out over a scoop and have added old fashioned cake donuts to the menu that they make fresh in house every morning. It’s a family affair and a love affair, and the passion shows in the product that came delivered to my door in San Francisco all the way from Brooklyn, NY. “The Old Ballgame Popcorn & Peanut Brittle” is popcorn-infused ice cream with house made peanut butter peanut brittle.

Many of the people and ideologies from Ample Hills carried over into The Social, but one major element has changed: eggs. Most of Ample Hills’ iconic flavors were a custard base, meaning they utilized egg yolks in the core recipe; and The Social got rid of the yolks entirely. I loved the original Ample Hills recipe, I even have the cookbook, but this new base is just as dense, rich, and phenomenally creamy as I remember from vintage AH. 

Egg yolks are an amazing vehicle for mouthfeel and texture but their extra fat can also muddy the flavor. The lack of egg yolks in this base pays dividends for the popcorn flavor. It’s buttery and slightly salty with a little bit of caramel flavor poking through and a toasted flavor that permeates throughout. I absolutely love the texture of The Social’s ice cream, it feels traditional and elevated at the same time. Maybe it’s the 70s style swooping rainbow logo that reminds me of progression rock pioneers Yes but this ice cream feels so classic that I could see myself enjoying it in a parlor before I was born.

The peanut butter peanut brittle is the lone mix-in and it is executed perfectly. Peanut butter brittle is a touch different than your average caramelized-sugar variety and the foundation is more creamy and nutty than purely sweet. There are whole peanuts embedded within which have a softer crunch than the dense intense chomp of the brittle’s base. Even though this is the only mix-in, the brittle bleeds a bit into the base and creates a mild caramel-like swirl that pools around the brittle in a very endearing way. I’ll call it brittle blood, and the brittle blood is delicious, bringing a little more extra texture to a pint that truly tastes like digging into a box of Cracker Jacks. There’s something instantly nostalgic about these flavors colliding in ice cream form. For anyone who likes a sweet and salty treat it’s a simple and well-executed duo that’s sure to hit your tastebuds like a home run in the ninth inning. 

Rating: 9/10

Found at: Goldbelly ($99 for 6 pints)