Take I: Sweet Action in Denver

I’m back! Apologies for the lack of posting around here lately. My employer sent me to Massachusetts for three weeks to help a Congressional campaign. After working 12+ hours/seven days a week,  I’m happy to say that my candidate (narrowly) won. But immediately after the election, I was sent to San Francisco to give two different presentations. So I’m still playing catch-up with my “normal” life.

Now, where were we?

Oh yes, Colorado.

We all had a fantastic time at the Great American Beer Festival. What can be better than sampling over 1,800 different beers from over 400 of the best breweries in the nation? If you’re gluten-sensitive like me, have no fear – the festival has been featuring more and more gluten-free varieties in recent years. I’m not nearly the beer enthusiast that my boyfriend and Elysia are, but I always have a blast at the Great American Beer Festival. Despite four hours of unlimited beer samples, the crowd is a jovial one. No drunken brawls to be seen here, and no one spills their beer on me. (Both are too-common occurrences in DC).

When we awoke the next morning, food was on everyone’s mind. It seems that eggs and bacon are the choice “hangover recovery” foods for most, but I’m usually in the mood for something cold and sweet. After a brunch of omelets and oatmeal, I casually asked Elysia if she’d ever been to the famous Denver ice cream spot called Sweet Action. She hadn’t even heard of it before! I informed her that US News & World Report ranked it #7 in their list of America’s Best Ice Cream this year. And, the wonderful friend she is, Elysia took my not-so-subtle hint and agreed to drive by.

Sweet Action Ice Cream is located in Denver’s South Broadway district – an area not often frequented by tourists. I’m told that South Broadway, or “SoBo” as the locals call it, was once a shady strip of adult theatres and grimy bars. But after a couple decades of revitalization, SoBo now gave me the vibe of a small California beach town. Walking down busy Broadway street, you’ll find indie art shops, trendy boutiques, antique shops, and funky little cafes. And Sweet Action is nestled right in the heart of the… well… action! We actually heard it before we saw it, as Sweet Action’s garage-style storefront was open to welcome the warm early-fall day. Inside, the garage-like decor continues. Concrete walls and floor. Very few tables and chairs. The menu board is the only decoration. We had to wait five minutes in line before placing our orders. Something I found strange for an early Sunday afternoon in October. I can only imagine how packed Sweet Action is on Friday evenings in July!

What sets Sweet Action apart from the competition is their ever-changing eclectic flavors and focus on local ingredients. Sweet Action also offers vegan ice creams, sorbets, and ice cream cookie sandwiches. According to my online research, some of the cult-favorite flavors include Thai Iced Tea, Stranahan’s Whiskey Brickle, Blackberry Lavender and Salted Butterscotch. But planners beware: Don’t set your heart on any flavor here, as Sweet Action rotates their flavor offerings with lightning speed. It’s best to arrive with an open mind (and empty stomach).

Before I could even peruse the menu offerings, a posted sign grabbed my attention:

The Colorodo Beer Ice Cream Fest? Turns out, Sweet Action highlights its best beer-infused ice cream flavors during October in honor of the Great American Beer Festival. This year’s lineup included ESB Oreo (Breckenridge Brewery Extra Special Bitter Ale), Colorado Peach Wheat (Wynkoop) and Tiramisu Stout (Strange Brewing Stout). But sadly, unlike the GABF, the Colorado Beer Ice Cream Fest didn’t offer gluten-free options. And don’t worry – I didn’t pity myself for one minute. There was no shortage of non-beer flavors to consider.

While I was mulling over the menu, Elysia pointed out that many folks were asking for samples before placing their orders. As it turns out, you don’t feel bad about asking for samples at Sweet Action; the staff actually encourages it! And while I had a flavor in mind, I took advantage of the sample-loving culture and tasted a flavor I’d never seen before: Goat Cheese Beet Swirl. Wowza. That tiny spoonful sure packed a punch. The ice cream was creamy and intensely flavorful; no one could mistake it for anything but goat cheese. The dark red swirl of beets was sweet and helped ease the potent goat cheese aftertaste. I have to admit, I simply don’t like goat cheese enough to eat more than a teaspoon of this ice cream. Still – I’m happy to have tried it. If you really dig goat cheese, this one’s definitely for you!

In the end, I went with Caramelized Pear. Feeling a bit dehydrated from the GABF, the thought of cold, juicy pears was incredibly appealing. I was so certain of my choice that I didn’t even request a sample before forking over $2.75 for a single scoop.

The verdict? This generous scoop of Sweet Action’s Caramelized Pear hit the spot in a way that few ice creams do. It was densely creamy and served at the perfectly-freezing temperature. Cold enough to melt slowly in your mouth, giving you ample time to let the complex flavors hit your palate. The pear taste is more subtle than other pear sorbets or gelatos I’ve had. But it holds it own against its warm, buttery caramel counterpart. The rich and sweet combination of flavors is comforting and refreshing. The texture is lightly gritty – but in a pleasant way that reminds you of Sweet Action’s commitment to fresh, local ingredients. This flavor would be perfect for Thanksgiving dessert – if only it was available every day. When I checked out the website a few weeks later, Caramelized Pear was already off the menu. You gotta move quick, or Sweet Action will pass you by.

The Stats:
Sweet Action
52 Broadway Ave
Denver, Colorado
(303) 282-4645

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