SCOOP - Dippin’ Dots: Ice Cream of the Future

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

It all started with a baby tiger. Scoop co-editor Theresa Poulos and I were standing in line to see the newest addition to the San Francisco Zoo, when we spied the unmistakable pastel-colored umbrellas that could only mean one thing: Dippin’ Dots.

For those of you unfamiliar with Dippin’ Dots, they are a treat made by flash-freezing drops of ice cream batter in liquid nitrogen and are usually available only in theme parks or malls. (Fun Fact: in 1995, Six Flags Theme Parks selected Dippin’ Dots as Vendor of the Year.)

A serving of the stuff resembles a cupful of tiny beads or perhaps sphere-shaped Fruity Pebbles. Abandoning all thoughts of seeing more animals, Theresa and I made a beeline to the stand and hovered around for the next 10 minutes, weighing factors such as price and the length of the line to see if such a treat would be worth a purchase.

Unfortunately, the cool temperatures and frigid wind gnawing at our jackets made the thought of ice cream much less appealing. As official and seasoned ice cream reviewers, we felt a substantial amount of guilt turning down the prospect of ice cream.

“We won’t ever get another chance!” we pleaded, trying to reason with ourselves. Ultimately, however, we decided against buying any for fear of hypothermia, and hung our heads in shame.

After a little research in the warm haven of the Lion House, though, the two of us discovered that all was not lost. There are actually two Dippin’ Dots retail stores that are not located in either an entertainment venue or mall.

One of them is on Navy Pier in Chicago and the other in Monterey, California, a two-and-a-half hour drive from San Francisco. Theresa and I looked at each other and nodded in unison — there was no need for words. On our next day off, we hopped in the car and set out for Monterey.

The Dippin’ Dots motto is, “Ice Cream of the Future!” When we finally arrived at the store, it certainly felt like the future.

I learned that the founder of Dippin’ Dots, Curt Jones, is a microbiologist who used his background in cryogenic technology to invent the tiny beads of ice cream. If that isn’t the best use for a science degree, I don’t know what is.

There were 24 flavors of “dot” available, including Lemon-Lime Sherbet, Moose Tracks and Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough. Samples were freely given, although due to the high probability of rolling away, the dots were served in a tiny cup (a “Dot Shot”) instead of a typical sample spoon.

The staff was willing to place as many flavors we wanted into a cup but warned us that too many would easily mix together (they are dots, after all) and turn into a confusing jumble of tastes.

Theresa decided on a five-ounce cup ($4.75) filled with Cookies ’n’ Cream, Birthday Cake and Vanilla Frappé, while I went with the same size but instead opted for Banana Split, Chocolate and Chocolate Mint. Other options included an eight-ounce cup ($6.25), or a small sundae with hot fudge and whipped cream ($5.50).

Purchases in hand, we walked across the street and staked out a spot on a bench overlooking the ocean—the perfect place to properly evaluate Ice Cream of the Future. After a few spoonfuls, both of us decided that the main appeal of Dippin’ Dots was definitely the texture.

Each bite was extremely cold — probably owing to the fact that the dots must be stored at minus 40° Fahrenheit, which is why they aren’t available in regular grocery stores. The beads were so cold that for the first few seconds, all I could think was, “This tastes like I have something in my mouth not meant for children under age 3.”

In other words, inedible and a choking hazard. However, after a short melting period, my taste buds were exposed to the glorious taste of ice cream. Theresa’s favorite ended up being the Cookies ’n’ Cream, which came with chunks of real, crunchy Oreo cookie dispersed amongst the dots, while mine was Chocolate.

Both of us agreed that the five-ounce size we got was perfect — anything more would have been too much.

Overall, our reactions ranged from “It’s better than I remember,” to “It’s worthy to offer aliens and might help make peace.”

Dippin’ Dots are a textural novelty and a great excuse for a road trip. For value and flavor, however, I prefer most other ice creams that don’t have to be stored at sub-zero temperatures.

Although we could have had them at the zoo, I’m glad we waited. The Scoop’s trip to Monterey allowed us to stare out over the Pacific Ocean, thankful for days off and with the taste of the Future in our mouths.

Dippin’ Dots

711 Cannery Row

Monterey, CA 93940

(831) 655-5080

Sunday-Thursday 10 a.m.-8 p.m.

Friday and Saturday 10 a.m.-9 p.m.