Free-for-all at the 2012 DC Scoop Competition

Who says “there’s no such thing as a free lunch”?  

Not me.

This Sunday afternoon, I feasted on some of the best ice cream in the greater Washington, DC area at the Second Annual “DC Scoop” Competition. And everything was free. The DC Scoop is an outdoor ice cream sampling event and competition where the area’s artisan ice cream vendors serve their prized ice cream, frozen yogurt, and other frozen treats in hopes of being crowned that year’s “DC Scoop Winner.”

This year’s competition was held at Union Market – a highly-anticipated food market that opened this week in Northeast DC. I constantly find myself missing and fantasizing about Pike Place Market in Seattle – so I was excited to hear that an artisanal, curated, year-round food market was coming to the District. But I broke into the “Hallelujah” chorus (literally) when I read online that that Union Market would host the DC Scoop event during its opening weekend.

Like a kid on Christmas morning, I woke up early on Sunday eager to get the party started. While the boyfriend had to work, my B.F.F. (best foodie friend) Andrew agreed to accompany me to Northeast DC. After a 10-minute cab ride, we found ourselves surrounded by old warehouses and rundown wholesale markets. But straight ahead – the bright “UNION MARKET” sign stood out like friendly beacon.

The DC Scoop event was held in a fenced-in space next to the market, but Andrew and I purposely arrived early to explore the indoor market. We were pleasantly surprised by the variety and quality of food vendors we found inside Union Market. Fresh cheeses, organic meats, local produce, artisan chocolates, homemade pasta, spices – Union Market has it all.

After perusing the aisles of Union Market, it was finally time to head over to DC Scoop! Entry was free to the public, and each attendee received three pink ‘sample’ tickets for tasting and one golden ‘judging’ ticket to vote for their favorite vendor. While a panel of judges (defined as “stirrers and shakers of the DC food scene”) determines the DC Scoop Winner, the crowd’s votes do carry some weight with the judges. Andrew and I were among the first twenty or so people in line when the doors opened. After receiving our tickets, Andrew suggested we take a “survey” lap around the grounds before deciding how to allocate our sample tickets. Brilliant guy, I tell you.

Andrew and I took our time surveying the types of ice cream, frozen yogurt, custard, and sorbet offered by the 13 different vendors at DC Scoop: Boss Ice Cream, Captain Cookie & the Milk Man, Carmen’s Italian Ice, Dolcezza Gelato, Gifford’s, Goodies Frozen Custard, Savvy Pops, Sinplicity, Sweet Cream, Sugar Magnolia, Sweet Freeze, Taharka Brothers, and Trickling Springs Creamery. I’d say more than half of the vendors were serving samples from food trucks. Some vendors were sampling all of their flavors, while others had limited menus. Andrew and I both gravitated towards the more unique-sounding offerings. After all, we didn’t make the trek to Northeast DC just to try chocolate chip or cookie dough!

You only get three ‘sample’ tickets at the DC Scoops Competition – so it’s important to choose wisely. The first concoction I deemed worthy of a ticket was found at Carmen’s Italian Ice. This Rockville, MD institution is famous for its 70+ flavors of homemade Italian ice. As a general rule, I’d choose ice cream over Italian ice. I prefer smooth and creamy frozen treats and find Italian ice too… well… icey! But the concept of “gelati” has long intrigued me. Frozen custard layered with Italian ice? Maybe I could choke that down. While I didn’t take a formal tally, it seemed that Carmen’s Italian Ice had one of the longer menus at DC Scoop. For a gelati sample, you get to choose two flavors – one for the Italian ice and one for the frozen custard. For my Italian ice, I already had my eye on the Chocolate Everything – chocolate ice with marshmallows, peanut butter, chocolate chips, and Reese’s Cups. The staff at Carmen’s insisted that the best complement to my Italian ice would be the Mokaccino (chocolate & coffee) frozen custard. I’m not one to turn down unsolicited ice cream advice.
Don’t let the size of this cup fool you. This small “gelati” was packed with flavors and textures. The Chocolate Everything Italian ice lived up to its name – and the creamy (yes, creamy!) chocolate ice was jam-packed with chocolate chips and bits of Reese’s Cups. Sadly, the marshmallows escaped my sample cup. The Mokaccino frozen custard flavor was so strong, I thought I felt a caffeine buzz. Ten years ago, I’d have hated it. But my adult coffee addict-self rejoiced.     

With just two tickets to go, the pressure was mounting. Spying a line forming at Sinplicity‘s truck, Andrew and I made a beeline towards last year’s DC Scoop Winner. I’m glad we jumped in line when we did – because it only grew. The Falls Church, VA-based ice cream truck (officially named the “Sinmobile”) certainly has a strong fan base in DC…

Just when Andrew and I were wondering whether any ice cream sample was worth this wait, I spotted a man walking along the line and passing out spoonfuls of ice cream from a pint he was carrying. Extra samples? I’d wait. And check out the shirt he was wearing – “Skinny people can’t be trusted.” That got a giggle from me when the Sinplicity man handed us each spoonfuls of Cappuccino Crunch, cappuccino ice cream with chocolate-covered almonds and amaretto. Delicious. The coffee flavor was weaker than in Carmen’s frozen custard, but this was much more family-friendly. The amaretto swirl provided richness, and chocolate-covered almonds gave a sweet crunch. If you can believe it, Sinplicity didn’t stop there! The next preview sample to make the rounds was the Lemon-Ginger sorbet with spiced Jamaican rum. This sorbet was made for my mother, who adores anything ginger-flavored. The sorbet was perfectly refreshing and sweet, with just enough ginger to compete with the lemon without overpowering it. As Andrew and I finally neared the Sinplicity truck, we met a celebrity!

The famous Emily!

Turns out, the owner’s daughter Emily is the creator of one of Sinplicity’s best-sellers, which bears her name. Emily’s Peanut Butter Truffle is peanut butter ice cream mixed with chocolate truffles and swirled with dark chocolate. Emily was kind enough to let me try her concoction – and, boy, was it yummy. The peanut butter ice cream was one of the better versions I’ve tried – and her idea to use dark chocolate swirls – instead of the standard milk chocolate – was pure genius. Thanks, Emily!

For our full Sinplicity sample, Andrew and I just had to try the Blackberry & Cabernet sorbet with a “hint of lime.” I forked over a sample tickets and was rewarded with one heck of a sample. The presentation alone scored points with me. The rich, deep purple sorbet. The generous serving size. The crisp biscotti garnish. And Oh. My. Goodness… this sorbet made me swoon. While many sorbets can be icy and overly-sweet, Sinplicity’s sorbet was velvety in texture and complex in flavor. The deep blackberry and Cabernet flavors melded perfectly, and the lime gave the sorbet a refreshing aftertaste. This was so delicious that Andrew and I had to “take a moment” to enjoy our samples under the shade of the judging tent.

One ticket left…

I parted with my last ticket at Sugar Magnolia – a new ice cream shoppe in Cleveland Park. Sugar Magnolia was offering just two unique flavors at DC Scoop – and both Andrew and I had eyed their Peach Marscarpone earlier in the day. I wanted to pay tribute to the abundance of fresh peaches in DC this time of year, and I felt adventurous enough to try a cheese-flavored dessert. But I was sorely disappointed with the teeny-sized sample that was handed over. Not only was the cup about a third of the size of Sinplicity’s – it wasn’t close to being filled! In fact, the ice cream amounted to less than a spoonful – making it was difficult to really assess the flavor. Based on the bit of ice cream on my tongue, the marscarpone ice cream was full of flavor without being too rich or heavy. There was a hint of peach flavor, but it was pretty weak and overpowered by the cheese. All in all, an underwhelming finale to an otherwise fabulous tasting experience.
The verdict? I knew exactly who deserved my golden voting ticket: Sinplicity. Did I simply fall for their clever marketing schemes? Nah. The Blackberry & Cabernet sorbet was worthy of a King, and. If there had been silver tickets, I would’ve awarded mine to Carmen’s Italian Ice for proving once-and-for-all that Italian ice can be just as decadent as ice cream. I was a bit sad about the missing marshmallows in my Chocolate Everything gelati, but I’m sure it was just a fluke. Sugar Magnolia’s Peach Mascarpone ice cream was tasty, but their skimpy samples made it hard to really assess the flavor. I learned that at the DC Scoop, the best things don’t come in small packages. They come in big cups topped with biscotti 😉

The Stats:

Union Market
1309 5th St NE
Washington, DC 20002

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