Standing Room Only: Jeni's Ice Cream
"Honey Vanilla Bean, Thai Chili, Wildberry Lavender, and Smoked Chocolate aren't exactly the flavors found at most ice cream shops."
Jeni's Ice Cream
59 Spruce Street, Columbus Ohio 43215 (map); 614-228-9960
The Short Order: Creamy and complex ice cream
Want Fries with That? Just sweets here but check out the Belgian fries in the next stall.
Like many people, my wife and I spent the holiday season driving all over the country visiting family. The final tally was 18 hours in the car over seven days. Much of that trip was to Columbus, Ohio, so I could have Christmas at my sister's house.
I lived for a year in that fine city and figured it would be nice to extend my very Chicago-centric Standing Room Only column to include the largest city in Ohio.
But I'll be damned if I could think of many stands in the city. All of my favorite options in the city are places like The Northstar Cafe and the Thurman Cafe which have plentiful seating available. I did find this crazy late-night pizza place on High Street called Late Night Slice serving up slices in an alley with movies projected on the side of a brick wall while you wait—but the pizza was just average.
Suddenly it all hit: Jeni's Ice Cream. I should mention now that Jeni's Ice Cream is my favorite ice cream. I so loved the stuff that once I even tried to personally take some to Serious Eats World Headquarters in New York.
I packed my suitcase full of a few gallons of it, sandwiching it between bags of dry ice to help keep it cool for the flight. I got all the way to the departure gate before security was flagged and my large bag stuffed full of dry ice was confiscated.
Who knew dry ice was illegal to carry on a flight? Anyway, to make the flight I had to sacrifice all of the ice cream. I've heard that they now sell Jeni's in New York.
But I'd like to write about the original location in the North Market, a large indoor market in the Arena District that's also home to a butcher, fishmonger, and fantastic cheesemonger along with a whole slew of little food vendors.
To be absolutely fair, there are a bunch of tables available on the second floor, which should disqualify this as a Standing Room Only—but no one orders a scoop of ice cream, then walks up a flight of stairs to sit on a bench. Most people just get one and meander around the market taking in the scene. So I'm counting this as a stand.
Jeni's was started by Jeni Britton Bauer, and according to her delightful biography, she aims to make ice creams that "are less sweet and more flavorful." That couldn't be anymore true.
They are creamy and luxurious, with dominant flavors and just a bit of sugar to help it go down. What they are really known for is there inspired flavor combinations.
Honey Vanilla Bean, Thai Chili, Wildberry Lavender, and Smoked Chocolate aren't exactly the flavors found at most ice cream shops. They even have an honest seasonal menu. That's where you can find White Chocolate Evergreen with a Red Currant Garland, Scandinavian Winter Spices, and the Dark Chocolate Peppermint, in case you were wondering. Like the best ice cream shops, tasting before buying is encouraged.
But if you go to Jeni's there are two flavors you just have to get. The first one is a salty caramel—a perfect combination of salty and sweet, addicting like caramel popcorn.
The second is the Queen City Cayenne, which is spicy and complex, one that will sting your tongue for a few minutes afterward until you get the courage to dig in again (as noted here before.)
There are five Jeni's locations in Columbus. I've been known to go to the one on High Street, too, but prefer the one in the North Market because I think it represents Columbus at its finest. Pick up a scoop or two and take it to go.