Cafe Society

Would you pay $12.99 a pint for ice cream?

Thirteen bucks is more than twice the amount you'd pay for a pint of Ben & Jerry's or Häagen-Dazs at the grocery store, so how good would ice cream have to be to convince your average foodie to spoon over that kind of cash?

The answer? As good as Jeni's Splendid ice Cream, now in the freezer section at Cook's Fresh Market downtown.

I first heard of Jeni Britton Bauer's magical, frozen concoctions back in 2006, when Sophia Ford Coppola's Marie Antoinette came out (f*ck you haters, that movie was awesome!) and Jeni's created a collection of whole milk yogurt-based, specially-flavored ice creams inspired by the film: cassis, orange flower, crème de violet, pear Riesling.

Jeni, her husband Charly and her brother-in-law, Tom, started the company in 2002 in Columbus, Ohio. While studying at Ohio State University, Jeni had worked weekends in a French bakery -- she told that she wanted to work more than go to school, and "toward the end of college she started Scream, an ice cream business at North Market in Columbus. She had plenty of flavor ideas, pink hair and a business partner, but few business skills. The shop closed."

Okay, so maybe the pink hair worked, but the first attempt at an ice cream shop did not. But Jeni dusted herself off, took a class, talked to dairy farmers, and saved up to buy a machine so that she could make ice cream out of her house -- until she got a loan to start Jeni's.

Today Jeni's ice creams are made with grass-fed cream from Snowville Creamery out of Pomeroy, Ohio -- solid rep; I checked -- and seasonal, locally sourced fruits, vegetables and nuts. Her products are now available across the country via online purchasing and at select shops, such as Cook's here in Denver.

The story made me even more eager to grab me some Jeni's. Still, I had guilt issues about cheating on Sweet Action, because that's the standard by which I judge all other ice creams in town. Sweet Action's vanilla rose, blackberry lavender and grapefruit sorbet are my top three favorites, and if it ever made a saffron/Colorado honey flavor, that would be as if the clouds parted in the sky and cherubs with harps came down and blessed my mouth.

But somehow, hunger pangs overcame my pangs of guilt.

Jeni's is $12 a pint online, and that's not counting shipping, so I was surprised to find a small but solid collection of flavors available at Cook's for $12.99 a pint: a light markup. I had a tough time choosing my one pint -- I'm not well-heeled enough to buy more than one at a time -- because it's the creative, artistic, awesome, strange, never-thought-of flavor combinations that really sells this ice cream.

Bankok peanut, brown butter almond brittle, cherry Lambic sorbet, goat cheese with red cherries, juniper and lemon curd, wildberry lavender and Ugandan vanilla bean are only some of the ice cream and sorbet flavors that Jeni's makes. The limited selection at Cook's included Riesling poached pear sorbet, salty caramel, sweet corn & black raspberries, lemon sorbet, lemon & blueberries frozen yogurt, backyard mint, whisky & pecans and roasted strawberry buttermilk.

I had it narrowed down to salty caramel and roasted strawberry buttermilk -- now I get all those Sophie's Choice references -- and finally decided on the strawberry, because buttermilk-flavored things are usually all farmhouse-tasty. As the employee rung it up, I asked how Jeni's was selling. Very well, he said; Cook's gets its shipments in a huge, ice-cooled box on an as-needed basis, and as soon as it runs low, the store orders more. I put in a bid for the goat cheese with red cherries next round, then sat down to taste for myself whether this was the Tiffany & Co. diamond of ice creams.

Jeni's packs those pints tight -- no skimping on portions. The first bite was magnificent in the way that I think of works of art as being magnificent. By the third bite, I was able to articulate what it was about this particular ice cream that made it worth several pints of lesser varieties: It was rich. So rich that it actually filled my senses -- that kind of thing that you feel, smell, taste and visualize simultaneously. It had the flavors of concentrated jewel strawberries -- a Junebearing strawberry, flat, high-yield and very bright, glossy and sweet -- and fatty, rich cream with the unmistakable tang of buttermilk.

My plastic spoon felt ghetto. I felt ghetto, like I was under-dressed to eat it.

In other words, this is some serious gourmet sh*t.

I was convinced this ice cream was made from French-kissing angels, no hard-sell needed. But is it worth $12.99 for a single, solitary pint?


And thank you, Cook's Fresh Market, for bringing it to Denver.

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Jenn Wohletz
Contact: Jenn Wohletz